Court Decision In Tucson Could Affect Verdict In Fish Case

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Four days could mean the difference between prison and freedom for a 59-year-old retired schoolteacher convicted of second-degree murder.

An opinion handed down Sept. 5 by the Arizona Court of Appeals in Tucson has many across the state examining the date Harold Fish went to trial for the shooting of 43-year-old Grant Kuenzli at a trailhead north of Strawberry.

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Harold Fish

The appeals court ruled that a new state law more sympathetic to self-defense is retroactive "to pending cases that had not gone to trial."

At first, that appeared to be good news for Harold Fish whose attorney, Mel McDonald, has long argued the new law was retroactive.

But, while the appeals court in Tucson agreed the Legislature meant the law to be retroactive, the judges also added to "cases that had not gone to trial."

Fish's murder case went to trial April 20. The Legislature passed the law April 24.

Which means the appeals court ruling might not apply to Fish's case because his trial began four days before the law was passed.

The Tucson court issued its opinion in the cases of David Rene Garcia, 24, who is accused of shooting to death Alexis Samaniego on Dec. 13, 2004.

In Tucson, prosecutors argued the defendant must be tried under the old law in which the burden to prove self-defense was on the defendant.

Defense attorneys countered that the defendant must be tried under the new law, in which prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the death wasn't self-defense.

Those same arguments were debated prior to Fish's two-month-long trial held in Flagstaff.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Coconino County Superior Court Judge Mark Moran ruled that the new law did not apply to the fatal shooting of Grant Kuenzli. The Supreme Court, however, could reverse that decision Sept. 26 when it considers hearing the Fish case and similar cases where the self-defense law could make a difference.

Mike Lessler, the Coconino County Attorney who prosecuted Fish, said it was too early to tell whether the appeals court ruling in Tucson would have any effect on the Fish case. Instead, he said, the Supreme Court will have the final say.

Fish's attorney Mel McDonald could not be reached for comment.

Fish was found guilty in a jury trial and sentenced to a minimum of 10 years.

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