State appellate court judges decided Thursday to put a stop to the murder trial of Harold Fish before it goes to the jury, which would have occurred in about 10 days.
Their purpose for doing so is to decide on June 8 if a new law that makes it easier for people to claim self defense, enacted in the middle of Fish's trial, applies to his case.
Fish, 59, is a retired Valley school teacher accused of second-degree murder after he shot and killed a man at a trailhead near Pine on May 11, 2004.
Last week, Fish's attorneys filed a motion to have the appellate court stop the trial after the trial judge ruled that the new self-defense law does not apply in Fish's case.
In a 2-to-1 decision, the appellate court judges ordered the trial to be put on hold after all evidence is presented to the jury. That point in a trial is before attorneys make closing arguments and the jury is instructed as to the laws that will govern their deliberations.
Bruce Griffen, one of Fish's attorneys, said the need for the stay centered on the need to know which version of the law applies to Fish in order to properly instruct the jury.
Attorneys briefly argued the need for the stay Thursday, and the appellate judges granted the stay, Griffen said. The judges will hear arguments on June 8.
David Rozema, chief deputy Coconino County attorney, said that when the trial started, the law in place at that time required defendants to prove that they acted in self defense.
"The new law enacted during the middle of trial is very different in that it switches the burden to the state to disprove self defense," Rozema said. "That is a difficult thing to do when there are no other eyewitnesses besides the deceased victim and the defendant. So the ruling from the Court of Appeals is significant because it will tell us which self-defense law applies in this case."
Coconino County Superior Court Judge Mark Moran ruled last week that the new law does not apply in Fish's case.
The defense argued the law applies to the Fish case because the change is a procedural one, which state law allows to be applied to cases filed before the law went into effect.
The prosecution argued that the law does not apply because the change is a substantive one, and therefore, because Fish was charged under the old law, the old law still applies. The new law signed by the governor in late April, in part, now requires prosecutors to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a person did not kill another person in self-defense.
Before, defendants had the burden to prove it was more likely than not that they acted in self-defense.
The trial will continue today, Friday, and will run until all evidence is presented to the jury. The prosecution rested its case late Wednesday and the defense began presenting its case Thursday.
See related story:
New self-defense law won't apply in Fish trial (May 16)