Prosecutors in southern Minnesota aren’t saying that Long Vang provided a weapon to Jessica Haban or gave her instructions on how to kill herself. And they aren’t saying Vang supplied Haban, the mother of his two children, with an illicit drug that led to her death.
But prosecutors are accusing Vang of inflicting 10 years of relentless physical and emotional abuse on Haban during their relationship until she lost her will to live and died by suicide.
Now Vang, 34, of Stewartville, is charged in Olmsted County District Court with third-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter and stalking in connection with Haban’s Dec. 16 suicide. A message was left with Vang’s attorney Wednesday seeking a response to the charges.
“I believe Mr. Vang’s conduct directly contributed to the death of his partner,” County Attorney Mark Ostrem said in a statement announcing Friday’s charges. “Mr. Vang was clearly aware of the precarious state of his partner’s emotions following her hospitalization, and he continued the relentless contacts until her death.”
Charging an abuser with murder for another person’s suicide is a rarity in Minnesota if not unprecedented, according to Ostrem and others.
Ostrem said Wednesday that he has come upon no other prosecution under these circumstances ever in Minnesota, and he knows that means extra pressure on his office as it pursues its case against Vang.
“We have put a lot more scrutiny into charging this than in a typical case,” he said. “We know there are going to be some challenges and some questions. We plan to have our ducks in a row.”
Haban’s family has found comfort in the charges. It “means there is finally going to be some justice for Jessica,” said her mother, Rita Prinzing. “While we know that it won’t bring her back, he will be held accountable.”
Bob Small, executive director of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, said Ostrem “is being courageous” with this new approach.
Small anticipates that other county attorneys “certainly could” follow Ostrem’s lead and bring their own criminal cases involving suspected abuse triggering suicide. “If prosecutors come up with new ways to do things, as an association we want to share those,” said Small, a former Hennepin County judge and federal prosecutor.
Suicide by abused women is not new. Liz Richards, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, which was founded in 1978 and has been tracking homicides related to domestic abuse since 1989, noted that when it looked at data of Minnesota women who died by suicide over a three-year period, it found that between 6 percent and 13 percent of cases included “a documented court record about domestic violence of some type,” Richards said.
The research involved suicides from 2009-2011. Noting the difficulty in collecting information on suspected abusers, she called the correlation significant. “What we take away from this brief review of the records is that this is an issue that warrants deeper inquiry and research,” Richards said.
A mental blow
The abuse inflicted upon Haban was wide-ranging and persistent, and some of the interactions came despite a court ordering him to have no contact with her, according to charges.
She was sometimes knocked unconscious, had her hair pulled and was thrown against a wall. Bruises were evident on her arms, legs and hands.
Vang put a knife to her throat once during a gathering in a home in Austin, Minn., and surrendered the weapon only when a man in the home intervened, according to the charges.
Jealousy prompted one outburst, and financial difficulties were behind another. In one instance, Vang poured vegetable oil “all over” Haban because she “had bad in her,” the complaint read.
But it was Vang’s final blow — this one emotional — that apparently pushed Haban over the brink, the complaint spelled out.
Haban told a county social worker assigned to her domestic abuse case that Vang was pressuring her to leave inpatient mental health treatment and return home. Otherwise, Vang told her, she would be institutionalized and lose custody of their two children.
On Dec. 10, Haban told the social worker she wanted to end her treatment, and she was discharged on Dec. 13.
She killed herself three days later.
Richards, of the battered women’s coalition, said that though her knowledge of the case is limited, “there appears to be some culpability” for Vang to bear.
This is “a [prosecutorial] approach, at least on a tentative basis, that we support,” Richards said.
Haban’s mother said the case against Vang “has brought back a lot of emotions” for her and the children, who are now living with Prinzing in Rochester. “Two precious little ones have lost their parents,” Prinzing said.
Despite the accounts of chronic abuse inflicted on her daughter by Vang, Prinzing said while fighting back tears, “He’s very sick. I honestly have given this over to God. … We can’t get consumed with anger or revenge.”
Haban grew up in Rochester and graduated from John Marshall High School in 2006. She and Vang were “culturally married” in 2010, according to an obituary in the Rochester Post-Bulletin.
Prinzing said her daughter had recently graduated from cosmetology school and had been balancing “taking care of the kids, working and going to school. … She was amazing.”