Governor Vetoes Bill That Might Have Benefited Kuenzli Killer

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If Harold Fish is to be a free man again, his liberty might have to come through the appeals courts, rather than by a legislative fix.

A bill that would have possibly granted a new trial to the retired Phoenix schoolteacher -- who was convicted of the May 2004 murder of Grant Kuenzli -- was thwarted July 2, when Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed Senate Bill 1166.

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Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed legislation July 2 that would have possibly granted Harold Fish (center) a new trial. Fish is serving prison time for the May 2004 murder of Grant Kuenzli.

The legislation, proposed by Sen. Linda Gray, R-Glendale, would have made a self-defense statute passed April 24, 2006, retroactive to any cases that had not gone to jury on that date, which Fish's had not.

That statute put the burden on the prosecution to prove an act wasn't self-defense, rather than having the defense prove it was self-defense.

The governor vetoed a similar bill in March, saying allowing the self-defense statutes to be retroactive to the date Fish shot Kuenzli to death would allow far too many other trials to be heard again.

So, Gray revamped the legislation, hoping it would meet the governor's approval a second time around. But, it didn't satisfy Napolitano, and Fish must now hope the appeals courts will overturn his conviction.

In vetoing the bill, the governor wrote in her message, "any bill that would force the retrial of a serious criminal and force the victims of the crime to again relive their experience must be viewed with great skepticism."

Gray has said she now thinks it is impossible to convince the governor of the need for the law.

If passed, SB 1166 could have also been applied to a case in Pima County where David Rene Garcia is accused of shooting his girlfriend, which he said was done in self-defense.

If the appeals court does not give the 59-year-old Fish a retrial, he will likely spend the next 10 years of his life in prison for his second-degree murder conviction.

The father of seven received the mitigated minimum sentence in August 2006 in Coconino County Superior Court in Flagstaff.

The Fish case has drawn worldwide attention, including a nationally televised segment on NBC "Dateline" that examined the issues of safety in the national forests, dogs running free and the appropriate use of firearms.

The case also drew attention when it was learned the National Rife Association was partly funding Fish's defense.

On the day of the shooting, Fish was exiting a rugged trailhead north of Strawberry, when he encountered Grant Kuenzli and two of three dogs in his care.

Fish claimed the shooting was self-defense, saying Kuenzli attacked him after he fired warning shots at the dogs.

Throughout the trial, the two sides vehemently disagreed on the reason Fish fired.

While Fish continued to say he was innocent, the prosecution claimed Fish needlessly killed an unarmed man.

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