Wisconsin hunter sentenced to 69 years
Associated Press Writer
MARINETTE, Wis. (AP) ” A white hunter convicted of killing a Hmong man as they both stalked squirrels in the woods was sentenced Wednesday to 69 years in prison.
James Nichols, 28, of Peshtigo, was convicted last month in the death of Cha Vang, a 30-year-old father of five. The slaying rekindled racial tensions in northern Wisconsin, where a Hmong deer hunter fatally shot six white hunters in 2004.
Marinette County Circuit Judge David Miron gave Nichols the maximum sentence, noting his history of violence against animals and others, his juvenile record and a previous conviction for burglary.
“The community needs as much protection as it can possibly get,” Miron said. “The best we can do is make sure you can never do harm again.”
Nichols, a former sawmill worker, claimed he acted in self-defense when he shot and stabbed Vang Jan. 6. Prosecutors argued he took advantage of the isolation in the woods to act on his prejudice against the Hmong.
Nichols was recorded in police interviews referring to Hmong as “bad” and “mean” people who “kill everything, they don’t care what it is.”
Nichols spoke briefly to Vang’s widow, Pang Vue. Vue bent over, put her face in her hands and began to weep as he spoke.
“I am very sorry for what happened,” he said.
Nichols was arrested after he sought treatment at a hospital for gunshot wounds to both of his hands, about the same time Vang’s hunting companions reported him missing. Nichols initially said an unknown gunman shot him miles from the wildlife area where he and Vang had been hunting separately.
But he changed his story after a deputy asked why he did not call police, and he helped with the search for the body, leading investigators to the area where a search dog found it the next day under a log. An autopsy indicated Vang was hit by a shotgun blast and stabbed five times.
Nichols could have gotten life in prison had he been convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, but the jury chose a second-degree charge that allowed consideration of mitigating factors including self-defense. At sentencing, the judge said he thought Nichols deserved the more serious count.
“I believe (Vang) did fire a shot at you, but it was in response to yours,” the judge said. “I am sorry, but I can’t believe anything you say as far as what happened with this incident.”
Nichols also was convicted of hiding a corpse and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Defense attorney Kent Hoffmann said Nichols was disappointed with the sentence and would appeal. He declined to comment further.
Vang was born in Laos, fled to a refugee camp in Thailand and immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 2004. Several hundred thousand Hmong fled Laos for the United States after the communists seized control in 1975 following the Vietnam War. Many settled in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Nichols’ conviction came nearly three years after a Hmong hunter in northwest Wisconsin killed six white deer hunters following a racially charged confrontation about trespassing. Chai Soua Vang of St. Paul, Minn. ” no relation to Cha Vang ” is serving multiple life prison sentences.
After Cha Vang’s death, members of the Hmong community said they feared it was retaliation for the earlier killings.
Vang’s uncle Kou Vang, of St. Paul, Minn., said the family was “very, very pleased” that the judge gave Nichols the maximum prison term, but the sentence didn’t ease their grief.
“It is of little consolation to us. Mr. Nichols can go outside. He can feel the wind blow,” Vang said and broke into tears. “He can see his family. He can talk to his family. But ours is gone forever.”
Vue, Cha Vang’s widow, submitted a statement that was read before Nichols was sentenced. She called him “heartless” and said she has found it difficult to perform even simple household duties since her husband of 13 years died.
“I’ve been an emotional wreck and often time suffered from blackouts because I cannot comprehend why James Nichols decided to take the life of my husband,” she wrote. “I see myself stuck in a dark tunnel and I cannot see the light.”
Nichols’ father and his girlfriend left the courthouse without commenting on his sentence.
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UPDATE 5:27 p.m. — Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon has reopened in both directions Saturday evening after a safety closure due to a flash flood warning. There were no reported mud/debris slides.