Funding for the defense of a retired school teacher who shot and killed a man on a remote county trail comes, at least in part, from the National Rifle Association.
The prosecution says the jury should hear that Harold Fish's defense is being supported by the NRA's Civil Rights Defense Fund. The defense says the information is irrelevant and the jury should not hear it.
Judge Mark Moran of Coconino County Superior Court will decide the matter.
Fish, 59, is accused of second-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of homeless man Grant Kuenzli. Fish has pleaded not guilty to the charge, claiming he shot Kuenzli in self-defense.
Fish maintains that two dogs in Kuenzli's care rushed at him as he exited the trail. To protect himself, Fish said he pulled a handgun and fired a warning shot to keep the dogs away. He also maintains that Kuenzli then rushed at him threatening harm or death.
After several warnings for Kuenzli to stop, Fish shot Kuenzli three times in the chest at close range. Fish was not harmed, and Kuenzli did not have a weapon in his hands at the time he was killed.
County prosecutors filed murder charges against Fish, claiming that Fish went beyond the circumstances of the moment and needlessly killed an unarmed man when other options were available.
Fish's trial began earlier this month in Flagstaff.
According to a motion filed by the prosecution April 10, Fish's defense is being funded by the NRA, and lead prosecutor Michael Lessler would like to present that information to the jury.
"The National Rifle Association (NRA) has been helping to pay defendant's litigation costs, and the defendant's self-defense expert, Phoenix attorney Michael Anthony, represents gun manufacturers who benefit from NRA advocacy and has represented the NRA," stated the motion. "The state, therefore, should be allowed to present evidence the NRA is helping to fund the defense and that Mr. Anthony is representing gun companies and the NRA to show his financial interest in this litigation, and otherwise his bias."
One of 60 cases defended
On the NRA's Civil Rights Defense Fund Web site, the fund "... supports litigation involving significant legal issues related to the right to keep and bear arms."
That support includes the defense of people charged with criminal violations.
Of the 60 cases the NRA fund supports, Harold Fish is one of them, according to the Web site.
In addition, stated the prosecution's motion, Anthony appeared before the Arizona Legislature with one of Fish's attorney's, A. Melvin McDonald, in an attempt to change the state's self-defense laws.
With McDonald and Anthony was the NRA's state legislative liaison, the motion stated.
That law, which makes it easier for defendants to claim self defense by putting the burden to disprove self defense on the prosecution, has been changed and is now in effect. Whether the new law will affect the Fish case is scheduled to be argued in front of Moran next week.
"The NRA has a strong financial interest in the outcome of this trial," stated the prosecution's motion. "If the defendant is successful, surely this will be touted by the NRA as its success as well."
The defense's response to the prosecution's motion stated the motion should be denied because it is full of "speculation, innuendo and factual inaccuracies." And the presentation of that information to a jury will not only confuse the jurors, but it will unfairly prejudice Fish."
According to the defense response filed April 13, "This case is not about statements made by the National Rifle Association (NRA) on its Web site and is not about the hypothetical financial impact that a defense verdict will have on the NRA or firearms manufacturers.
"This case is about how Mr. Fish defended himself when his life was threatened by a violent man with two vicious dogs," the defense motion stated.
The motion went on to say that Moran has already ruled that the prosecution cannot refer to contributions made to Fish by the NRA.
"The NRA's contribution to the defense is minimal," the defense motion stated, adding that the NRA defense fund committee found Fish's case to be a worthy case to support.
And as to Anthony's role at trial, he is a respected firearms trainer and expert in concealed-weapons-permit training, the motion stated.
Anthony does not represent the NRA as an attorney, and less than one-one hundredth of Anthony's business as an attorney has dealt with gun manufacturers, the motion stated. In addition, the prosecution's claims are innuendo that Anthony has improper motives.
As to the law change, Anthony gave testimony to the Legislature as a citizen only. In the defense's response is a sworn affidavit by Anthony contesting the prosecution's claims.
A date to argue the NRA-funding matter has not been set. Fish's trial continues today, May 2, at 9 a.m. The trial is expected to last at least a month.