A jury was chosen in this liberal bastion on Thursday for the trial of a Hmong immigrant charged with killing six hunters, causing consternation in the North Woods, where the shootings took place.Would it be fairer to have this trial in a place where jurors had pre-existing ideas about the "culture" and "etiquette of hunting"? If understanding the hunting milieu is relevant, can't the prosecutor prove it? Or is the concern that the people of Madison will not understand the victims' behavior and will be unusually sympathetic to the racism theme in the defendant's argument that he felt threatened?
Some residents of Rice Lake, where all the victims lived or grew up, said they were concerned that the jurors from Dane County, which encompasses Madison, might not grasp the nuances of rural life.
"They are not as rural, and their culture and their lifestyle is quite different from ours up here in the north," said Renee Gralewicz, an ethnic studies instructor at the Rice Lake campus of the University of Wisconsin. "So we might have some people who really don't understand the culture of hunting and the etiquette and the ethics and how all of that plays out on the jury."
Judge Norman L. Yackel of Sawyer County Circuit Court ruled in June that the jury for the trial of the immigrant, Chai Soua Vang, would be chosen from Dane County after the defense argued that publicity and strong emotions in the Rice Lake area jeopardized Mr. Vang's chances for a fair trial.
The concern about the composition of the jury stems in part from the racial overtones of the case. Mr. Vang, 36, a refugee from Laos who lived in St. Paul, Minn., told police that he had been sitting in a tree stand on private hunting land about 25 miles northeast of Rice Lake one Sunday last November when the hunters, who were white, swore at him and used ethnic slurs.
Mr. Vang said he shot at the hunters after someone shot at him first.
"The rest of the group scramble for something at the ATV so I shot them at the ATV and ran toward them because I thought that they will get something a gun to shoot me," Mr. Vang wrote in a letter from jail to a reporter for The Chicago Tribune. The letter has been admitted as evidence in the case. "I feel that this incident is happen because people are not able to treated others with respect like they want to be treated and hatred toward other people or race."
One survivor told the police that Mr. Vang fired first.
Hmong hunters have complained of harassment from white hunters, some of whom point to a different hunting culture as the root of the problem. Many residents in Rice Lake, which is 230 miles northwest of Madison and has a population of 8,300, dispute the claim that racial tensions have been high in the area.
September 9, 2005
The NYT reports on a murder trial in what it calls "this liberal bastion," my city of Madison, Wisconsin. Why does the NYT care about a murder trial and what is the significance of the liberal politics in the location of the courthouse? The accused is a Hmong immigrant and the killings took place in the context of hunting: