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Jurors set for trial in 6 hunters' deaths
An all-white jury of 10 women and four men will determine the fate of a Southeast Asian immigrant accused of gunning down six deer hunters and wounding two others last fall in Wisconsin's north woods.
Testimony in Chai Vang's murder trial is expected to start Saturday, after 12 jurors and two alternates were selected Thursday in less than three hours. The jurors, from Dane County, will be bused nearly 300 miles to the trial in Hayward, Wis.
Jury selection was moved from Sawyer County to Dane County--home of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and one of the state's more racially diverse areas--because of concerns on the part of defense lawyers about pretrial publicity and possible racial animosity toward Vang in northwest Wisconsin.
Thursday's proceedings started with Judge Norman Yackel denying a request from security officers to have Vang wear a bulletproof vest inside the courthouse, a suggestion his attorneys also opposed.
The 36-year-old courier from St. Paul was arrested hours after the Nov. 21 confrontation and shootings on private hunting land. The National Guard veteran and father of seven is charged with six counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. He faces mandatory life in prison if convicted.
An earlier written questionnaire containing some 60 questions was used to winnow the pool of jurors to about 140. Attorneys then selected the jurors after asking them about pretrial publicity, experiences with hunting and guns and whether they would be prejudiced against Vang because of his race.
Vang, who is Hmong, an ethnic group from the mountains of Laos, was dressed in a green suit and frequently consulted with his attorneys during jury selection.
The two men who survived the shooting have told authorities Vang fired first, but he maintains that he was shot at first after racial slurs were yelled at him.
Experts say moving a jury to another jurisdiction can have a detrimental effect on how jurors view the defendant.
"The jurors are going to be resentful about being pulled away from their lives," said Andrea Lyon, a DePaul University College of Law professor who has worked as a jury consultant. "You can't sleep in your own bed. You can't talk to your kids. None of it is very hospitable to the defendant."
Yackel has indicated that he plans to work long days and Saturdays to speed up the trial and limit the time jurors are away from their families. Lyon said that practice also carries pitfalls.
"Their attention goes," she said. "You need time off to rest and digest what you have heard so far."
Vang's attorneys have declined to say whether he will testify during the trial, which is expected to last less than two weeks. He remains jailed in lieu of $2.5 million bail.
All of the victims lived in or near Rice Lake, Wis., a closely knit community southwest of where the shootings occurred. A large number of family members and area residents are expected to attend the trial.
Several of Vang's family members, including his mother, shielded their faces from television cameras as they exited the courthouse without comment.