As Trial Begins Fish Maintains Self-Defense

Advertisement

At least the prosecution and the defense agree on a few things.

Harold A. Fish, 59, a retired school teacher, was exiting a rugged trailhead north of Payson late in the afternoon of May 11, 2004, when he encountered Grant Kuenzli and two of the three dogs in his care.

Then Fish shot Kuenzli three times in the chest at close range, and Kuenzli died.

But the two sides vehemently disagree on the reason Fish fired.

Fish has pleaded innocent to a charge of second-degree murder, claiming he shot Kuenzli in self-defense.

The prosecution claims Fish needlessly killed an unarmed man and should be convicted of second-degree murder.

Attorneys delivered opening statements at Fish's trial Thursday morning in front of Judge Mark Moran in Coconino County Superior Court. Before the morning was over, however, attorney tempers had flared, signaling the intensity of the battle to come.

As part of the trial, the eight-person jury and three alternates will take a trip to the scene of the shooting.

Judge Mark Moran said that the trip is likely to be scheduled by next week.

The state

Michael Lessler, deputy Coconino County attorney, told the 11-member jury the statements Fish has given of the events reveal inconsistencies and evasiveness.

"In several different respects, Mr. Fish's story just doesn't make any sense," Lessler said.

Fish had been hiking a portion of the Arizona Trail. He had a backpack with food, water and other supplies. He had a walking stick. He had a 10 mm handgun with hollow-point bullets.

photo

Grant Kuenzli had taken two dogs from the Payson Humane Society, along with his own dog, for a walk on May 11, 2004 when he encountered Harold Fish. While there are conflicting stories about why, Fish shot Kuenzli three time in the chest at close range, killing him.

Grant Kuenzli had taken two dogs from the Payson Humane Society -- Hank, a chow mix, and Sheba, a shepherd mix -- out for a walk in the woods with his own dog, a lab mix, Maggie.

Lessler said that even though Hank and Sheba had some aggressive tendencies, neither dog was vicious.

Fish came up to the trailhead in the late afternoon. Sheba and Hank came running to Fish.

According to Fish, he yelled for the dogs to stop, yelled for Kuenzli to control his dogs. Kuenzli got up from a spot near his car about 50 feet away and started down the trail. Fish fired a warning shot at the dogs. The dogs dispersed. Fish looked up and saw Kuenzli nearing him.

Lessler, approximating that Kuenzli could only have been 6 or 7 yards away from Fish, said that Fish told investigators he had the following conversation with Kuenzli:

Kuenzli: "You shot my dogs."

Fish: "I didn't shoot your dogs."

Kuenzli: "I'm going to kill you, you son of a b****." (several times)

Fish: "Stop or I'll be forced to shoot." (several times)

All the while, Fish said Kuenzli was coming at him at a full run.

Fish shot Kuenzli between 1 and 10 feet from him.

It is impossible for the two to have had that length of conversation in the distance left to cover, Lessler said.

Lessler said Fish gave inconsistent statements of the time of the shooting, of the amount of light available at the time, of whether Kuenzli said "kill" or "harm," and of what he did after he had shot Kuenzli.

One version Fish gave was that he immediately ran to State Route 87 to find help. In another version, he tried to call for help on the cell phone and ran back and forth trying to find reception.

One witness, a camper, remembered hearing one shot, then three shots at about 5:30 p.m. Fish said the event happened at about 6:30 p.m. He flagged down a motorist at 6:40 p.m.

Paramedics arrived at 7:30 p.m. and pronounced Kuenzli dead.

Fish's attorney, A. Melvin McDonald, began by asking the jury to look at the circumstances of the shooting and Fish's state of mind at the time.

"Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we're going to ask you to step into his shoes," McDonald said.

Second-degree murder requires Fish to have intent to kill Kuenzli.

The trial is expected to last about a month. The first witness for the prosecution is scheduled to take the stand today, Friday morning.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.