Trailhead Shooting Back In Court


Coconino County prosecutors have refiled second-degree murder charges against the man accused of shooting to death 43-year-old Grant Kuenzli during a confrontation near the Pine Creek Trailhead.

County Attorney Terry Hance filed the complaint March 30 against 57-year-old retired Tolleson school teacher Harold Fish. The case is to be heard at a May 10 preliminary hearing in front of Superior Court Judge Mark Moran.


Grant Kuenzli

It was Moran, on March 24, who threw out a grand jury indictment against Fish. In the judge's ruling, he said prosecutors omitted facts and allowed misleading testimony in their July 2004 grand jury presentation against Fish.

Following Moran's ruling, Coconino County lead prosecutor Mike Lessler said his office had three options on how to continue with the case against Fish.

They were: return the case to the grand jury, challenge Moran's ruling or present it to a judge at a preliminary hearing.

Hance said prosecutors opted for a preliminary hearing over the other two choices because all they will need to prove is "probable cause" for the case to be remanded to superior court for trial.

Fish's attorney, Mel McDonald -- a former U.S. Attorney for Arizona --said he was hopeful prosecutors would drop the case against his client, but he welcomed the preliminary hearing.

"I'm happy with this, evidence can be presented and we can cross examine rather than having to sit like a potted plant as we have to do in front of a grand jury," he said. "But the standard of proof (against) Fish is much lower in a preliminary hearing."

His goal he said, will be to have the charges against his client dismissed at the hearing.

Hance said prosecutors will prove the shooting was not in self-defense and Fish should be tried for second-degree murder.

Since the May 11, 2004 shooting, Fish has claimed he was in fear for his life.

Fish told investigators he fired two warning shots at Kuenzli's three dogs before shooting Kuenzli three times.

Originally, a Coconino County detective said the shooting was justified.

Later, Hance called the conclusion of self-defense "terribly premature" and described the incident as "an intentional killing without premeditation."

Kuenzli's friends in Payson describe him as a kind man not prone to violence

Although he lived in his car and camped out most of the time he was in Payson, Kuenzli was well regarded for his work with the humane society and PAWS in the Park.

Others who knew him depicted him as unstable. In a motion McDonald filed in October, the attorney included a signed statement from a former girlfriend who said Kuenzli struck her, stalked and repeatedly threatened her.

Fish also has claimed that the three dogs with Kuenzli were vicious.

McDonald included this claim in a 116-page motion he filed in December, stating that one of the dogs was aggressive and that another attacked a sheriff's deputy causing the officer to draw his weapon.

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