Prosecutors Accused Of Misconduct; Appeals Delay Trial

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Coconino County can continue to prosecute a 58-year-old retired school teacher accused of killing a hiker, a judge ruled July 27 in Flagstaff.

Superior Court Judge Mark Moran made the ruling in the case against Harold Fish, who is accused of the May 11, 2004 trailside shooting of Grant Kuenzli, 43.

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Harold Fish

Moran's ruling was in response to a motion filed in May by Fish's attorney Mel McDonald. In it, McDonald asked that county prosecutors be removed from the case because, in part, they were guilty of misconduct and had used intimidating behavior, including attempts to bar Scott Feagan, a detective from the Coconino County Sheriff's Office, from testifying.

The two sides argued the motion July 19 in Flagstaff. Coconino County lead prosecutor Mike Lessler said he denies all of McDonald's allegations.

Feagan was the original investigator in the case and said in the early days of the investigation he believed Fish acted in self-defense.

Feagan was among the defense witnesses McDonald was going to call to the stand at a May preliminary hearing.

McDonald, however, waived his client's rights to the hearing after Moran granted the prosecutors' motion not to allow pleas of self-defense at the hearing.

McDonald said county prosecutors had reneged on an agreement to allow the hearing to include Fish's pleas of self-defense.

Coconino County lead prosecutor Mike Lessler denied his office ever agreed to allow self-defense and said the judge denied McDonald's motion because "there was no evidence of any alleged improprieties and no legal basis (for removing the prosecutors).

According to Lessler, it is now up to Moran to schedule the start date of the murder trial.

McDonald says he's ready to defend his client, "we'll go to trial and it won't be for a long time."

Fish was wrapping up a hike on the Pine Canyon trail north of Payson where he said Kuenzli's dogs attacked him. He said he fired a warning shot at the dogs and then shot Kuenzli after the Payson man rushed him, screaming a death threat.

The original grand jury indictment against Fish was dismissed after Moran ruled prosecutors erred in not telling the grand jury about the aggressiveness of the dogs and had also allowed misleading testimony.

Following that ruling, McDonald said, "If the evidence had been fairly presented to the grand jury, Mr Fish would not have been indicted."

Just after Moran dropped the original murder charges, prosecutors decided not to present the case to a grand jury a second time, but rather to have it heard at a preliminary hearing.

Fish has pleaded innocent.

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