Disrespecting a Trespasser
In November of 2004, Chai Soua Vang, 36, a Hmong (Laotian) immigrant from St. Paul, Minn., was sitting in a tree stand on the private property of Bob Crotteau in northern Wisconsin waiting for a deer to wander by.
Eventually, Crotteau and his deer hunting companions arrived at the scene on ATVs. Crotteau verbally admonished Vang for trespassing and demanded that he leave. The previous year, Crotteau had been forced to confront Hmong hunters several times on his posted property and was clearly upset he had to do it again.
Vang, who had been charged with criminal trespass over a similar incident in 2002 on another property in the same vicinity, was apparently upset as well. He opened fire on the hunters, most of whom were unarmed at the time, with his SKS assault rifle. When it was all over, six hunters were dead and two lay wounded.
Later that day, Vang was arrested without incident by a game warden.
When first questioned by local authorities, Vang stated that one of the two survivors, Terry Willers, did the killings (including murdering his own daughter) and tried to frame him. However, investigators quickly ruled that scenario out after examining the scene. Vang then recanted his story and insisted he was fired upon first.
During the trial in September of 2005, the two survivors, Terry Willer and Lauren Hesenbeck, described how Crotteau had verbally confronted Vang about trespassing. Vang started walking away, removed the scope from his rifle, turned around and opened fire on the hunters. As some of them scattered, Vang reversed his orange jacket to camouflage, chased them down and shot them in the back.
Vang's courtroom account of the incident was about the same, except he testified that Crotteau shouted racial slurs at him, thereby disrespecting him and deserving to die. He also claimed that someone fired a shot at him first. Both Willer and Hesenbeck denied under oath that anyone had fired a shot at Vang.
According to his own testimony, Vang had reloaded three times and fired more than 20 rounds.
* Robert Crotteau, 41, construction business owner -- dead (shot once in the back).
* Joey Crotteau, 20, construction worker (Robert Crotteau's son) -- dead (shot four times in the back).
* Denny Drew, 55, car salesman -- dead (shot once in the chest).
* Allan Laski, 43, lumber yard manager -- dead (shot three times in the back).
* Marl Roltd, 28, auto mechanic -- dead (shot once in the head).
* Jessica Willers, 27, nurse (Terry Willer's daughter) -- dead (shot twice in the back).
* Terry Willer, 47, construction worker -- wounded (shot in the neck).
* Lauren Hesenbeck, 48, car dealership manager -- wounded (shot in the shoulder).
It took the jury only three hours to return six first-degree murder verdicts. Vang was sentenced to mandatory life in prison without parole, the maximum penalty available in Wisconsin.
Vang had lived in the United States for more than 20 years, had been hunting since 1992 and had previously been chased off private property for trespassing. He knew the rules but chose to ignore them.
I have eight acres in Arkansas and previously owned six acres in Arizona. In both places, I've been forced to chase armed intruders (hunters) off my property, even though it was posted and I lived there (within shooting range). Inconsiderate hunters put rural property owners in an awkward, dangerous position when they trespass without permission. And reckless, unlawful hunters tend to make all hunters look bad.
When you trespass on someone else's property, carrying loaded firearms, being accosted verbally and angrily is getting off easy. When you disrespect the landowner, don't expect to be respected in return.
Chai Soua Vang will rot and die in prison, probably still demanding to be respected.
But respect is not something you're entitled to -- it's something you earn.
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Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels, which are available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.