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Court Of Appeals Upholds Department Of Justice's Successful Homicide Prosecution Of James Nichols



Marinette County Jury Convicted Nichols of Killing Cha Vang in Peshtigo Harbor Wildlife Area


MADISON - This morning, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of James A. Nichols for second-degree intentional homicide with the use of a dangerous weapon, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and hiding a corpse.


Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen praised the ruling.  "Our laws, the criminal justice system, and the Wisconsin Department of Justice are for the protection of all people," Van Hollen said.


Nichols killed Cha Vang in the Peshtigo Harbor Wildlife Area on January 5, 2007.  That evening, Nichols admitted to police that he killed Vang and hid Vang's body, but claimed to have acted in self-defense.  He also made several anti-Hmong comments to police, which were similar to anti-Hmong comments he made to his employer and a stranger just months before.  Police discovered Vang's body the next morning, buried under leaves and debris, near where Nichols had shown them.


Nichols claimed on appeal that (1) the anti-Hmong comments he made before killing Vang should not have been admitted into evidence because they were too prejudicial;  (2) his statements to police should have been suppressed because he was not given Miranda warnings; and (3) the jury should have only been instructed on the crime of first-degree intentional homicide and not the crime of second-degree intentional homicide.


The court of appeals rejected all three claims.  It held that the anti-Hmong comments were properly admitted because they were "relevant to whether Nichols killed Vang in self-defense or because of his grievances with Hmong hunters."  The court also held that Nichols was not in custody and did not have to be given Miranda warnings when he talked with the first two detectives who interviewed him and that, even if he was in custody after that, any error in admitting his subsequent statements was harmless.  Finally, the court held that the second-degree intentional homicide instruction was properly given because, as the instruction for "imperfect self-defense," it directly followed from Nichols' claim of perfect self-defense.


The Wisconsin Department of Justice represented the state at both the trial and appellate levels in this case.  Assistant Attorney Generals Roy Korte and Donald Latorroca prosecuted Nichols at trial, and Assistant Attorney General Rebecca St. John handled the case on appeal.


The court of appeals decision is available at: