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Restitution took on a new meaning Thursday when a California appeal court ordered a man who beat up three Hmong men to repay them for the costs of sacrificial cows, pigs and chickens. Sacramento’s 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled that the slaughtered animals and herbal medicines were part of a traditional Hmong spirit-calling ceremony called Hublee, designed to heal the souls of those who are sick and injured. The justices upheld a restitution award of more than $6,000 — half going toward the costs of sacrificial animals and ceremonial supplies and half going to medical bills — against Chard Keichler, who pleaded no contest to violating the civil rights of Xiong Moua, Nhia Vue and Kenneth Lee during a fight. All three men were severely injured, with Moua sustaining a brain contusion. After the fight, the injured men and their families bought herbs and animals to be sacrificed as part of healing ceremonies presided over by local shamans. Butte County, Calif., Superior Court Judge Robert Glusman granted restitution after a hearing at which experts explained that the spirit-calling ceremony is a Hmong tradition that dates back centuries. The Hmong people believe that when someone is ill or hurt, one or more of their souls may leave the body. Pigs, cows and chickens are sacrificed in an effort to tempt the souls back or be replaced by the animals’ souls. According to the ruling, the family of Moua, the most severely injured, had to kill a pig, two cows and several chickens — at a cost of more than $1,800. Keichler’s lawyers had argued that restitution for nontraditional healing ceremonies was “beyond the bounds of reason” and not what was anticipated when the restitution laws for crime victims were put on the books. The appeal court disagreed, calling the Hublee “the Hmong equivalent of western medical expenses.” “This ceremony is no more ephemeral or intangible than the psychological treatment a western practitioner might provide to his or her patient,” Justice Ronald Robie wrote. “Indeed, even if the bare minimum result of this ceremony is that it calms the victims of this crime after their traumatic experience, this ceremony serves the same purposes for Hmong victims as counseling and other psychological treatment.” Justices Rodney Davis and Vance Raye concurred. Apparently trying to head off jokes or criticism, the justices noted that their ruling isn’t without precedent. The Minnesota Supreme Court reached the same conclusion in 1999. The case is People v. Keichler, C047014.

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