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Defense lawyer: Hunter killings a 'whydunit'

Suspect faces initial court appearance Tuesday

Kia Vang, the suspect's daughter, speaks during a news conference Sunday in Milwaukee.
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Funeral services were held for the first of six deer hunters shot.
Crime, Law and Justice

(CNN) -- The killings of six hunters last weekend in northwestern Wisconsin is more of a "whydunit" than a "whodunit," a lawyer for the suspect in those shootings said Sunday.

Chai Vang, a 36-year-old man from St. Paul, Minnesota, is accused of killing six people and wounding two others at a hunting ground in Sawyer County, Wisconsin.

Attorney Steven Kohn told reporters in Milwaukee that Vang's defense lawyers are looking at "potential mental health and mental responsibility defenses" in addition to a defense on the facts of the case.

Sawyer County Sheriff James Meier said the shootings were prompted by a dispute over a tree stand on private property on the first weekend of Wisconsin's deer-hunting season.

But Vang, a Laotian-born U.S. citizen, told investigators that he was subjected to ethnic slurs and was fired on first before he shot back, according to court papers released last week. (Full story)

"This certainly does not seem to be a whodunit. It seems to be a whydunit," said Kohn, who also represented the man who killed serial murderer Jeffrey Dahmer in 1994.

Vang faces an initial court appearance Tuesday in Hayward, Wisconsin, where he has been held on suspicion of murder and attempted murder since his arrest November 21. Bail has been set at $2.5 million, and Kohn said he expects formal charges to be filed Monday.

Vang's daughter, Kia Vang, said she has not spoken to her father since his arrest and was shocked by the allegations against him.

"I don't know what to say, but the truth will eventually come out either one way or another," she said.

Vang was a member of the Hmong minority in Laos. He came to the United States in 1980 and worked as a truck driver in St. Paul, which is home to the largest Hmong community in the United States. He is married and has six children.

Vang's only known brush with the law stemmed from a 2001 domestic dispute in which he allegedly waved a handgun at his wife. His wife declined to press charges in that incident, the sheriff's department said.

Those killed last week were residents of Barron County, Wisconsin, in the northwestern corner of the state, and local authorities said they were respected community members. But defense lawyer James Mentkowski said Vang was "as loved and respected in his community as are the other individuals who were involved in this incident."

"There are many questions in the Hmong community as to how an individual as respected and loved as Mr. Vang was -- as to how he found himself in a situation that caused him to respond in the way that he did," Mentkowski said. "The Hmong community is looking to the trial process to resolve these issues."

Tuesday's hearing is slated to be held in a basement of the sheriff's department headquarters, Kohn said. But he said he was not aware of any safety concerns or threats that might have prompted the hearing to be held there rather than in a courtroom.

Sawyer County deputies have been "nothing but professional and cooperative," he said.

"I think that in being professional, they are taking all safeguards that they possibly can, given the physical safeguards they have to deal with."

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