SACRAMENTO, Calif. _ Facing the prospect of a trial with a weak case, the federal government has dropped its prosecution of Vang Pao, the legendary guerrilla fighter and patriarch of the Hmong people whose indictment on a charge of plotting an armed takeover of his native Laos set off protests in the streets of Sacramento and concern in the halls of Congress.
In the end, the case rested on the word of his wristwatch tape recorder and a dispute over what Vang said while inspecting an RV full of military-grade weapons outside a Thai restaurant in downtown Sacramento nearly three years ago.
The defense contended that the agent "simply fabricated" his account of Vang conspiring to invade Laos. And while the government earlier insisted conflicting information about what Vang said was an "honest mistake," federal officials announced Friday that all charges against Vang have been dropped.
"In our measured judgment, and based on the totality of the evidence in the case and the circumstances regarding defendant Vang Pao, we believe that continued prosecution of this defendant is no longer warranted," U.S. Attorney Lawrence Brown said.
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The case will continue against 10 other defendants originally charged and two added in a new indictment.
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