The Coconino County Attorney's office recommended Friday that a Flagstaff grand jury indict 57-year-old Harold Fish for second-degree murder in the May 11 shooting of 43-year-old humane society volunteer Grant Kuenzli on a remote trailhead.
Coconino County Attorney Terry Hance said Fish has been ordered to make an initial appearance in court on June 25.
"During his appearance, the judge will consider issues of bond and release conditions," Hance said.
Hance said the evidence speaks for itself despite the fact that the Coconino County Sheriff's Office concluded that the physical evidence gathered by crime scene specialists corroborates Fish's claim of self-defense.
Fish said that he was under attack by Kuenzli and three dogs and was in fear for his life when he fired three bullets at Kuenzli, killing him. Fish was uninjured in the incident.
The case was scheduled to go before the grand jury Thursday, but Hance told the Roundup Monday he could not confirm when or if this will occur and that his office may consider a preliminary hearing in lieu of a grand jury.
The sheriff's report was initially submitted to Deputy County Attorney Roberta McVickers, who determined that the evidence should go before a grand jury, but without a charging recommendation.
By Friday, Hance overrode her decision and recommended second-degree murder. Hance said when and if the grand jury will meet is confidential and closed to the public and press.
"The grand jury can return any charges they want or nothing," Hance said. "They could determine they won't issue any kind of indictment or they could come back with manslaughter -- or, theoretically, first-degree murder. They have the whole gamut of charges to choose from."
Hance said it takes a vote of nine jurors to indict and the number of people sitting on the grand jury varies, but there must be a minimum of nine.
"Second-degree murder is the charge that most conformed with the facts, which is an intentional killing without premeditation," Hance said "Arizona law is specific about use of deadly force and self-defense. It is limited to responding to deadly force. The facts are that an unarmed man was shot three times."
The Roundup has obtained police reports which include Fish's statements to sheriff's deputies following the shooting.
"(Fish) stated that he was hiking out of the Pine Canyon area ... As he neared the top of the trail, two (of the three) large dogs came running towards him in an aggressive manner," Fish told Sgt. David Ramos. "(Fish) stated that they were barking at him and it was in his mind that these dogs had full intent to attack him and bite him given the chance."
According to the report, as the dogs drew closer, Fish dropped his aluminum walking stick and drew his semiautomatic handgun and yelled at the dogs to stop several times. Fish fired a single round from his handgun into the ground in front of the dogs. Fish stated the dogs "ceased their attack on him and proceeded to disperse and leave his immediate area."
Fish told Ramos that after the dogs dispersed, he saw Kuenzli running at him "full-speed, downhill, with a wild, crazed look in his eyes and screaming that he was going to kill Fish for shooting his dogs."
According to the report, Fish yelled back that he did not shoot the dogs and ordered Kuenzli to stop.
"When the individual would not slow down, Fish pointed his handgun at the subject and yelled several times, ‘Stop or I will be forced to shoot,'" Ramos said in the report.
Fish said given the look in Kuenzli's eyes, he feared that he would follow through with the death threats Fish alleges Kuenzli made several times.
Fish told Ramos that Kuenzli was "nearly on top of him" when he fired three rounds from his Kimber 10 mm handgun.
In Feagan's report, Fish said he yelled to Kuenzli to call off his dogs and after firing the warning shot, he looked up and heard Kuenzli say "I'm going to get you."
Those who knew Kuenzli from the humane society and his work as a firefighter at the Grand Canyon said he was a gentle soul incapable of the violent attack Fish alleges.
"I don't know if he thought I shot the dog ... I don't know," Fish told Feagan. "I'm yelling at him to back off and stop and he's right on top of me and he's swinging his hands and I couldn't see if he had anything in his hands. He looked crazy. He's coming right at me and the dogs are on both sides of me. I couldn't get down because it's downhill. I had my pack on. I couldn't run anywhere ... you can't run from the dogs."
This contradicts Fish's earlier statement that he did not know where the dogs were after firing the warning shot.
As for the walking stick, Fish told Feagan, "I wasn't thinking about the stick and if I had thought about it, I probably could have beat (the dogs) with the stick."
Kuenzli's sister, Linda Kuenzli-Almeter, said despite Fish's claims, he had other non-lethal options.
"He didn't have to kill him," Kuenzli-Almeter said.
After Kuenzli fell to the ground, Fish told him that he was going to get help. At that point, Fish said Kuenzli was alive and responsive.
Fish flagged down an off-duty Forest Service employee on Highway 87 who had OnStar in his vehicle. OnStar is an emergency communication system available in many General Motors vehicles. By the time paramedics from the Pine-Strawberry Fire Department arrived, Kuenzli was dead.
The county attorney's office has requested the tape of the OnStar call as well as a talk radio program Fish said he was listening to at the time of the incident.
Feagan said Fish had one side of his headphones on and was listening to 550 KFYI.
"That's how we know the shooting occurred at approximately 5:30," Feagan said. "Fish said they were discussing the beheading of the American in Iraq."
Other evidence the grand jury will see are documents pertaining to Kuenzli's mental health, a previous police report detailing a run-in Kuenzli had with a truck driver in March, and the history of aggression of two of the dogs, Hank and Maggie.
Hance said Kuenzli's mental health history was not relevant to their decision to recommend Fish be charged with second-degree murder.
Fish is now being represented by a former U.S. attorney, Melvin McDonald, who said the incident was a classic case of self-defense and that he is disappointed that charges have been brought against his client, but that (Fish) will be vindicated.
Hance said his office has been inundated with calls, letters and e-mails from people throughout the state, most of them demanding Fish face criminal charges.
Hance said his decision to recommend the charge of second-degree murder was based on the facts of the case, not on community sentiment.
SEE HIKER SHOOTS
SEE MAN SHOT
SEE DOG LOVERS
Recent Newspaper Editorials
SEE WILD WEST
SEE LYNCH MOB
SEE BENSON CARTOON