An owner of the woods where six white deer hunters were killed after a confrontation over trespassing had kicked wayward Hmong hunters off the land three or four times before, a survivor testified Tuesday in the trial of the Hmong man accused of the murders.
Lauren Hesebeck told jurors in Chai Vang's murder trial that Robert Crotteau had referred to Hmong hunters as "mud ducks" and "he was sick of them coming on his property."
Hesebeck's testimony was the first indication of why Crotteau wanted to talk to Vang last Nov. 21 after another member of their hunting group spotted Vang in the tree stand and told him to leave. The other hunter, Terry Willers, testified Vang apologized and was walking away before the others came to the scene.
Hesebeck said Crotteau and four others rode all-terrain vehicles to intercept Vang as he walked down a trail, and Crotteau angrily confronted Vang and used profanities.
"Bob asked him, What the (expletive) are you doing here? Do you know you are on private land?'" Hesebeck testified.
Hesebeck said Vang tried to walk away once, and Crotteau's son, Joey, blocked him because Robert Crotteau said he wasn't finished talking yet.
Hesebeck said at one point Robert Crotteau told Vang, "You keep it up, I'm going to kick your (expletive). You come back, I'm going to kick your (expletive). Better yet, I'm going to report you to the (state Department of Natural Resources). Maybe that will teach you."
Willers, who like Hesebeck was wounded in the shootings, told jurors Monday he never heard Crotteau use excessive profanities or any racial slurs, though he conceded he did not hear everything.
Vang, 36, a truck driver from St. Paul, Minn., is charged with six counts of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. He faces mandatory life in prison if convicted. Tuesday was the third day of his trial, and Sawyer County Circuit Judge Norman Yackel told jurors, who are from Dane County, that they likely would get the case Friday.
Vang's attorney, Steven Kohn, has told jurors Vang, a deer hunter since 1992 and father of six, came under a verbal attack from the hunters, who used profanities and racial slurs, and Vang felt frightened and under siege. Vang says he acted in self-defense after someone shot at him first.
Hesebeck and Willers disagreed in their testimony on some details, including how Vang held his gun. But both testified Vang shot first, and Hesebeck returned one shot with a rifle Willers had.
On Tuesday, defense attorneys questioned Hesebeck about statements he gave his wife and investigators in which he said he believed Willers fired at Vang.
Prosecutors suggested Hesebeck may have been confused when he gave those statements, and they presented evidence that only one shot was fired from Willers' gun, the only firearm among the hunters who confronted Vang.
Hesebeck, a car salesman from Rice Lake, testified that Crotteau, who owned a concrete construction business and was killed in the shootings, had removed Hmong hunters from his land before last fall's hunting season, and when he learned a trespasser was in his son's tree stand, he wanted to talk to him.
Hesebeck said he decided to ride along with Crotteau on an ATV after Dennis Drew, another hunter killed, encouraged him.
"Denny said, This ought to be interesting. Let's go and see what's going on,'" Hesebeck said.
Hesebeck said Crotteau at one point flipped over the hunting tag on Vang's back to get his license number. Vang then started to walk away.
"We figured it was done," Hesebeck said, indicating the hunters started climbing on the ATV to go back to their cabin.
Hesebeck said he told Crotteau to stop when he noticed Vang fiddling with his gun, and he saw Vang remove the scope, which would make it easier to shoot in close quarters.
"I don't know who said it, but somebody said, Stop. Don't shoot. Just get the hell out of here,'" Hesebeck said.
Hesebeck said Vang fired at Willers first. There were other shots and Vang shot at Hesebeck once but missed. He said a second bullet struck him in the arm and exited through his back, knocking him to the ground.
Hesebeck said he opened his eyes and heard Drew holler, "I am hit bad. I am gut-shot."
Hesebeck said Drew asked him to give him last rites, but Hesebeck didn't know how. Then he heard Drew praying.
Suddenly, Hesebeck said, he heard something to the effect of, "You are not dead yet?" and saw Vang nearby.
Hesebeck said one or two shots were fired at him, he scrambled around the ATVs and dove behind a clump of dirt. He said he fumbled to take the safety off Willers' rifle, shot wildly once at Vang and missed.
Vang hesitated and ran away, Hesebeck said.