Sentencing In Trail Shooting A Month Away

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A retired school teacher convicted of second degree murder last week in Coconino County Superior Court will not know his sentence for at least 30 days.

A spokeswoman in the office of judge Michael Moran, who presided over the case, said the sentencing of Harold Fish, 59, will not occur for another month while presentencing reports are compiled.

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Harold Fish, right, lawyers and the 11-member jury visit the scene of the alleged crime on April 28.

Originally, a sentencing date was to be set for June 19 in Flagstaff.

However, that was postponed to allow county prosecutor Michael Lessler and defense attorney A. Melvin McDonald to settle on a date that would be agreeable to both.

Immediately after Fish, a father of seven, was found guilty, he was handcuffed and taken into custody. He is being held in Coconino County jail.

He faces the possibility of 10 to 22 years in prison.

Lessler has said the county attorney has not decided on the length of sentence the prosecution will seek because the case is so unusual.

While Fish waits, McDonald has said he is ready to vigorously begin the appeal process to have the conviction overturned.

McDonald called the jury's verdict a travesty and a decision he would never understand.

Fish's fate might have been sealed June 8 when state appellate court judges declined to rule on whether a new law that makes it easier for people to claim self defense could be used in the trial of Fish.

That meant Moran's ruling in early May that the new law did not apply to Fish's case was upheld.

Had the new law applied, the prosecution of Fish would have been much more difficult.

Fish's argument of self defense also suffered setbacks when Moran refused to allow McDonald to introduce into evidence Kuenzli's medical records, Mesa Police reports and a psychiatric autopsy done by recognized Scottsdale psychiatrist Steven Pitt.

McDonald argued they were relevant to the case. "(Prosecutors) don't want anything about Kuenzli brought out," he said.

He also contended he had statements from people who knew Kuenzli, describing him as unstable, that were not allowed into evidence.

Lessler argued that McDonald's efforts to use the records and statements in court were only to smear the reputation of the victim.

McDonald said his appeal will contend the judge should have allowed testimony about Kuenzli's character and that he was carrying a 7.5 inch screwdriver in his back pocket that could have been used as a weapon.

"Those are used in hold-ups all the time," he said.

The defense also found evidence of several violent incidents in Kuenzli's past, but the judge limited testimony about those incidents.

Fish, a former Tolleson High School teacher, said he shot and killed Kuenzli, 43, during a May 11 confrontation near the Pine Creek trailhead.

Fish claimed he feared for his life when Kuenzli charged at him, yelling death threats.

He said he fired a warning shot at two of the victim's dogs to disperse them and then shot Kuenzli three times as the man charged him down a steep trail.

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

NBC Dateline has been in Flagstaff and also at the shooting site taping segments about the killing.

-- To reach Max Foster call 474-5251 ext. 114 or e-mail mfoster@payson.com.

See related story:

Trailside shooter guilty (June 16)

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