Justice Dept. drops Laos coup plot case against 11 Hmong

At the request of federal prosecutors, a Sacramento judge on Monday dismissed the entire case against 11 Hmong Americans and a retired U.S. Army officer charged with plotting the violent overthrow of the communist regime in Laos.

"This must have been like watching a train wreck for the government," said Mark Reichel, one of the defense lawyers. "They could see it coming, but they couldn't do anything about it."

Saying it was unsupported, U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. two months ago threw out much of the case, which was originally charged more than 3½ years ago.

A month before, the judge tongue-lashed a trial attorney from the Justice Department's National Security Division in Washington, D.C., over what Damrell regarded as vague and contradictory aspects of the government's accusations.

The charges outraged U.S. veterans of Vietnam, who see the Hmong as gallant allies, and galvanized the Hmong American community to organize massive demonstrations in Sacramento.

Col. Wang Yee Vang, who helped organize those protests, on Monday said he was "glad the federal government acknowledged their mistake."

After the judge tossed out two counts of the five-count indictment and significant sections of the omnibus conspiracy count, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said in a prepared statement, "We conducted a further assessment of the matter" and decided that, "under the totality of circumstances, it is not in the government's interest to continue this prosecution."

The decision to drop the case came just four days after the death of Vang Pao, the iconic Hmong American leader and former major general in the Royal Lao Army who was initially charged as the mastermind behind the conspiracy. The government dropped those charges in September 2009. Vang died Thursday at age 81.

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