A Minnesota man accused of fatally shooting six deer hunters in the woods of northern Wisconsin appeared in a makeshift courtroom Tuesday, a day after charges were filed against him.
During a brief five-minute hearing held in a basement room at the Sawyer County Sheriff’s Department, Chai Vang, 36, of St. Paul, waived his right to a preliminary hearing within 10 days and one was set instead for Dec. 29.
Defense attorney Steven Kohn said Vang was mentally competent to understand the charges against him and participate in proceedings in the case.
He was charged in Sawyer County Circuit Court with six counts of murder, each carrying a life prison term, and two counts of attempted murder. Wisconsin does not have a death penalty.
The criminal complaint filed Monday said the hunters managed to shoot back once or twice after the Nov. 21 confrontation with the Hmong immigrant about trespassing on private land.
Two survivors told investigators that no one in their group pointed a gun at Vang before he opened fire, according to the complaint. Four victims were shot in the back.
Bond remained at $2.5 million, but Kohn said he reserved the right to address that issue later.
According to the complaint, Vang said that he opened fire after the others took a shot at him first and berated him with racial slurs. He allegedly told investigators he shot some of the victims because he thought they were going for guns or had guns, and that he did not shoot at others although he could see they were armed.
Vang also told investigators he saw one of the hunters still standing, yelled “You’re not dead yet?”, fired a shot and ran. He had an empty rifle when arrested several hours later.
The criminal complaint also said Vang told investigators that the victims fired at him twice — including the first shot when he was walking away after being told he was trespassing.
Two of the survivors, however, told authorities Vang fired the first shot.
Funerals for two victims were held Monday.
“Most of us are just as confused and lost and stunned as we were when we first heard about it,” the Rev. Jim Powers told several hundred mourners at a service for Jessica Willers, 27. “We need to work through this and we need to help others work through it.”
At another church, mourners paid their respects to Dennis Drew, 55, a father of three who grew up on a dairy farm, served in Vietnam and returned to raise his family.
Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, whose office is prosecuting the case, refused Monday to address specific questions about what took place, including who she believes fired the first shot.
The victims were part of a group of about 15 people taking part in a hunting trip to the 400-acre property. The trip was an annual event on the opening weekend of hunting season.
In addition to Willers and Drew, those killed were Robert Crotteau, 42, the owner of the land where the shooting happened; his son Joey Crotteau, 20; Al Laski, 43; and Mark Roidt, 28, all from the Rice Lake area.