MARINETTE, Wis. – A white man was charged Tuesday with murdering a Hmong hunter in the woods in a slaying that rekindled racial tensions in Wisconsin and raised fears among Southeast Asian immigrants that the killing was payback.
James Nichols, 28, shot and stabbed Cha Vang, 30, whose body was found Jan. 6 in a wildlife refuge near Green Bay where both were hunting squirrels, authorities said.
Nichols was ordered held in lieu of $500,000 cash bail Tuesday, and a preliminary hearing was set for Feb. 14.
District Attorney Brent DeBord gave no motive for the killing, which Vang’s family said appeared to be racially motivated. Nicholas has claimed self-defense, according to the complaint.
Nichols’ public defender, Kent Hoffman, said Tuesday that the charges were just allegations.
Two years ago, a Hmong deer hunter shot six white hunters to death after being accused of trespassing in the Wisconsin woods. He said the whites shouted racial epithets at him and opened fire first. He is serving life sentences.
After Vang’s slaying, members of the Hmong community said they feared it was retaliation for the earlier killings.
“I know there are many people in the Hmong community and the community at large, that are wondering if this is a hate crime,” said Dick Campbell, a spokesman for Vang’s widow, Pang Vue. “I’m wondering that myself.”
Nichols told authorities that Hmong people were mean and “kill everything and that they go for anything that moves,” the complaint said. He also said the “Hmong people are bad,” the complaint said.
Vang’s body was found covered with leaves and other debris in a depression in the woods after members of his hunting party reported him missing. An autopsy indicated Vang had been hit with a shotgun blast and stabbed six times. He also had a stick in his mouth, the complaint said.
Sheriff’s deputies arrested Nichols after he went to a hospital with a .22-caliber bullet lodged in his right hand and an injury to his other hand. He was charged with first-degree murder and other offenses.
Deputies said Nichols told several versions of his story in claiming self-defense. He told one that Vang said, “I’m going to kill you, I’m going to kill you,” the complaint said. But Vang’s wife has said he knew no English.
If convicted, Nichols could get life in prison plus 39 years and a $50,000 fine.
He made his first court appearance via video conference Tuesday, answering a judge’s questions politely. His 20-year-old fiance, Dacia James, sobbed when the $500,000 bail amount was set.
Before the hearing, James said Nichols was not a racist and gave authorities different versions of his story only because he knew he wasn’t supposed to have a firearm. Nichols was on probation for felony burglary charges.