Shooting Defendant Waives Right To Trial

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Harold Fish, the 58-year-old retired school teacher accused of shooting a Payson man to death, has waived his rights to a preliminary hearing.

Fish's attorney, Melvin McDonald of Phoenix, said he waived his client's rights because Coconino County prosecutors reneged on an agreement to allow the hearing to include Fish's pleas of self defense.

"I learned after 5 p.m. Friday (May 6), that the judge had granted their motion (for no plea of self defense)," McDonald said. "So we decided ‘why stay up here (Flagstaff) for days and waste our money...we'll go to trial and it won't be for a long time.'"

McDonald also said a preliminary hearing without a justification argument would have been useless because a judge needs very little evidence to bind a defendant over for trial.

Coconino County attorney Mike Lessler, who is prosecuting Fish in the May 11, 2004 shooting of Grant Kuenzli, 43, argued the defendant conceded his right to a jury trial because of the abundant probable cause for the murder charges.

The preliminary hearing was to have begun May 10. The case is not expected to go to trial for more than a year.

McDonald said he had a long list of highly qualified experts lined up to testify on Fish's behalf in the preliminary hearing.

Scott Feagan, a detective for the Coconino County Sheriff's Office who was the original investigator of the case, is among those McDonald said he would call to the stand.

Feagan said in the early days of the investigation he believed Fish acted in self defense.

Coconino County Attorney Terry Hance has called the conclusion of self defense "terribly premature" and said he had received more phone calls, letters and e-mails about the case than any other case in recent memory.

He described the shooting as "an intentional killing without premeditation."

McDonald said the prosecutors used intimidating behavior, including attempts to bar Feagan from testifying in the hearing. He's filing a 32-page motion asking the Coconino County Attorney's office to be disqualified from the case.

Lessler would only say, "We will be responding in writing to that motion."

Lessler anticipated the motion will be heard sometime in July in Coconino County Superior Court.

Lessler also said he was happy Fish had waived his rights to a preliminary hearing because the case needed to be decided by a jury.

Judge Mark Moran's decision not to allow an argument of self defense in the preliminary hearing represented a setback for Fish, just when it looked as if his plea that he was wrongly charged was gaining ground.

In mid-March, Moran tossed out a murder charge against Fish, saying prosecutors omitted significant facts and allowed misleading testimony when they originally presented it to a grand jury.

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

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

Since the May 11, 2004, trailhead shooting of Kuenzli, Fish has claimed he acted in self defense and was in fear for his life when he shot Kuenzli who he said charged him, screaming a death threat.

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

Kuenzli, who camped out and lived in his car while in Payson, was known for his volunteer work at the Payson Humane Society.

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