Defense Attorney Wants Victim's Mental Health Records

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Attorneys in the Grant Kuenzli shooting death are posturing for the day the second-degree murder case could go to trial.

Phoenix attorney Melvin McDonald, who is representing the defendant, retired Tolleson High School teacher Harold Fish, filed a motion last week seeking the release of Kuenzli's mental health records.

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Grant Kuenzli

Almost as quickly as McDonald filed the motion, Mike Lessler, lead prosecutor in the case against Fish, is opposing the motion.

"They are totally irrelevant," Lessler said.

Fish, 57, claims he acted in self-defense when he shot Kuenzli, 43, May 11 near Pine Canyon trailhead north of Payson. Fish told investigators he fired two warning shots at Kuenzli's three dogs before shooting Kuenzli three times.

Fish also said he was in fear for his life when Kuenzli allegedly charged him, screaming a death threat.

McDonald said he doesn't know what the mental records contain, but based on what the victim told other people, they might have information that would be favorable to Fish's defense.

If McDonald is successful in getting the records released, he wants Scottsdale psychiatrist, Steven Pitt, to do a psychiatric autopsy to render an opinion on Kuenzli's mental state at the shooting scene.

Lessler contends the defense is trying to smear the reputation of the victim, and Kuenzli's records should not be made public to preserve doctor-patient confidentiality.

In August, Lessler predicted that he and McDonald would probably differ on what was appropriate, like Kuenzli's health records, to put before the jury.

The debate, he said "will be the subject of motions -- papers and oral argument."

McDonald said he does not expect a decision on his motion to be rendered before early November.

A Mesa police report, which depicts Kuenzli as threatening, abusive and unable to come to terms with a breakup, details the accusations of a woman with whom Kuenzli was romantically involved. The victim filed two restraining orders against Kuenzli and told police he sexually assaulted her in October 2002. Kuenzli was arrested by Mesa police for stalking the woman, but the case was dismissed. He has no criminal record in Arizona.

Both the Arizona Daily Sun and The Arizona Republic have published stories detailing Kuenzli's past run-ins with the law and parts of his psychiatric history.

Lessler contends the Mesa reports are irrelevant and cannot be accepted as truth since no charges were filed.

In Payson, friends of Kuenzli have characterized him as a compassionate man who loved dogs.

In a written affidavit, Diane Brown described Kuenzli, whom she met at the Payson Humane Society, as "cheerful, upbeat, intelligent and caring."

John McCauley wrote about Kuenzli, "a giant of a man -- an outdoorsman, animal lover ... and incapable of attacking someone."

In addition to filing the motion seeking the release of the victim's mental health records, McDonald said he will ask the court to hold another grand jury hearing.

McDonald said his hope is that the findings of the July 22 jury, second-degree murder charges against Fish, will be tossed out.

McDonald said he does not know when, or whether, the court will make the decision to convene another grand jury.

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