Court May Consider Psychiatric Autopsy Of Shooting Victim


Coconino County prosecutors are fighting to keep the psychiatric state of the victim of a fatal shooting out of court. Prosecutors filed motions that would preclude attorneys for Harold Fish, charged with second degree murder, from introducing a psychiatric autopsy and character records of Grant Kuenzli.

The motions were slated to be heard at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 14 in Coconino County Superior Court.


Harold Fish

However, in an emergency hearing Oct. 31, Judge Mark Moran granted defense attorney Mel McDonald more time to prepare his motions.

A date for the postponed hearing has not yet been set.

McDonald, who is representing Fish, argues both character records and the autopsy of Kuenzli are relevant to the case.

But, he added, they (prosecutors) "don't want anything about Kuenzli brought out."

Coconino County lead prosecutor Mike Lessler has maintained, almost since the onset of the case, that McDonald's efforts to use Kuenzli's records in court are attempts to smear the reputation of the victim.

"We don't think something like this (psychiatric autopsy and character records) belong in court," he said.

The hearing in Flagstaff -- when it is held -- will be in front of Moran who, McDonald said, can decide immediately whether to allow the psychiatric autopsy and character records to be introduced or take the motions under advisement and decide later.

In a psychiatric autopsy, a psychiatrist would offer his opinion on how Kuenzli reacted when Fish fired shots at his three dogs during a deadly Pine Canyon Trail confrontation May 11, 2004.

The psychiatrist compiles the autopsy by examining records and interviewing witnesses.

Court records indicate nationally recognized Scottsdale psychiatrist Steven Pitt will perform the autopsy.

When the hearing is held on whether to allow the records and autopsy as evidence, McDonald -- a former superior court judge and U.S attorney -- is unsure what Moran's ruling will be.

"Not a clue," he said.

The records

If Moran allows Kuenzli's character records to become evidence, McDonald has statements from people who knew Kuenzli, describing him as unstable.

Also, Mesa Police reports contain accusations of a woman with whom Kuenzli was allegedly romantically involved. The reports depict him as threatening and abusive. The victim filed two restraining orders against Kuenzli and told police that he sexually assaulted her.

In October 2002, Kuenzli was arrested by Mesa police for stalking, but the case was dismissed.

No formal charges were ever filed against Kuenzli and he has no criminal record in the state of Arizona.

If the psychiatric autopsy becomes evidence, McDonald said it would help his client's case because it will show Kuenzli's pattern of violent behavior.

People who knew Kuenzli in Payson -- where he volunteered at the Humane Society and Paws in the Park -- describe him as a kind man, not prone to violence.

While in the Rim Country, Kuenzli lived mostly in the national forest, using his car as a campsite and home.

Since the killing, Fish, 57, has claimed he acted in self-defense when he shot Kuenzli, 43. Fish told investigators he fired two warning shots at Kuenzli's three dogs before shooting Kuenzli three times.

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

The case has stirred strong emotions around the United States about the safety of hiking in national forests, dogs running free and the appropriate use of firearms.

Most recently, NBC Dateline told the Payson Roundup it would be in the Rim Country soon to tape a segment about the killing.

See related stories:

Hiker shoots alleged attacker on remote trail (May 14)

Man shot by hiker a local volunteer (May 21)

Gunman 'overreacted,' says dead man's sister (May 28)

Local dog lovers fight to save silent victims (June 1)

Benson cartoon reflects concerns over hiker shooting (June 4)

Hiker to face murder charge in shooting (June 8)

Movement to save dogs gathers momentum (June 15)

Lead detective in trailside shooting case steps down (June 22)

Investigator wants input from those who knew Kuenzli, dogs (July 2)

Friend of murdered man presses cause (July 20)

Grand jury to decide fate of trailside shooter (July 21)

Trailside shooter indicted for murder (July 23)

Shooter enters plea of not guilty (Aug. 3)

Defense attorney wants victim's mental health records (Oct. 26)

Defense moves to overturn murder indictment (Dec. 31)

Judge tosses grand jury indictment (March 25, 2005)

Trailhead shooting back in court (April 22)

Shooting defendant waives right to trial (May 13)

Prosecutors accused of misconduct; appeals delay trial (Aug. 2)

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