No dismissal in case against accused general on day when thousands show support

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bryan Patrick/
A rally outside the federal courthouse in Sacramento on Monday in support of Gen. Vang Pao. The rally is taking place as oral arguments are heard on the defense motion to dismiss the Hmong case because of outrageous government conduct.

By Denny Walsh and Stephen Magagnini

Published: Monday, May. 11, 2009 - 9:56 am
Last Modified: Monday, May. 11, 2009 - 1:38 pm
As thousands of Northern California Hmong gathered in downtown Sacramento today, the legal issue that attracted them to the federal courthouse ended without resolution.

Defense lawyers argued before U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. that the case against Gen. Vang Pao and 10 other people charged with plotting to overthrow the communist government of Laos should be dismissed.

After a 90-minute hearing, Damrell declined to rule on a defense motion to dismiss the case. The defense contends that the defendants had been denied due process because of outrageous government conduct.

Damrell said there was not enough on the record before him to rule. The judge said he would wait to rule until all material that the government is going to give the defense has been turned over and there is a complete and final record. Then he will decide on merits of the motion argued by the defense today.

The arguments revealed sharp differences in the interpretation of the evidence supplied by the prosecution to defense attorneys.

Defense attorneys say that the hundreds of pages of reports and dozens of hours of wiretap recordings turned over to the defense team by prosecutors reveal the dishonesty of charges against the 11 men.

Lawyers in the U.S. attorney's office say the defense allegations are a selective reading of seemingly supportive facts from the record -- frequently out of context -- and omit other pertinent, nonsupportive facts.

The next scheduled conference before Damrell is Oct. 5. In the meantime, Damrell told both sides that differences they have over what should be disclosed by the government -- and when -- should be taken up with the magistrate judge assigned to the case, Dale A. Drozd.

Demonstrators rallied in support of Vang, nine other Hmong men and a retired U.S. Army officer from Woodland who are all charged with conspiring to purchase scores of weapons to arm insurgents and to hire mercenaries, all designed to oust the Laotian regime.

They held signs indicating they were from Alaska, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Kansas. Some said they came from as far as Australia and France to join the protest. Also visible were signs with the general's picture and hundreds of American flags.

The throng unleashed the loudest chant of the morning -- "Free Vang Pao!" -- as the general made his way into the courthouse surrounded by security guards in yellow T-shirts.

It was the emotional climax of a protest that began at 7 a.m. at the state Capitol and wound its way to the federal building, where the intersection of Fifth and I streets was jammed with protesters. Speakers at the federal building included Hmong leaders and Colonel Bill Lair, a CIA officer who recruited Hmong -- including Vang Pao -- to battle the communists.

Sacramento police Lt. Mike Bray estimated the crowd at the federal building swelled to 8,000 people, the largest he's seen in 20 years on the job.

"They chartered 59 buses from the Central Valley alone, and others came in by train and light rail," Bray said. "Fortunately, they are very orderly and very respectful.

"This is a good group to deal with," he said.

Since the case against Vang and the others was revealed, there has been a groundswell of support among Hmong Americans, Vietnam veterans and others who regard Vang and his followers as heroes.

Vang was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1961 to lead a secret army of Hmong soldiers against the North Vietnamese.

For the next 14 years, until the communists came to power in Laos, his troops disrupted movement on the Ho Chi Minh trail, the Viet Cong supply line to the south that traversed Laos, and flew combat missions as back-seat spotters.

Some of the defendants fought under Vang's command.

Bee staff writer Bill Lindelof contributed to this report.


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