New Team Files Appeal In Murder Conviction

Harold Fish was convicted of shooting a man in the forest

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A new defense team has filed an appeal of the second degree murder conviction of Harold Fish, a retired Tolleson school teacher who shot a man in the woods near Strawberry.

The Coconino County jury in the widely publicized case rejected Fish's plea of self defense after a judge barred testimony concerning the past behavior and medical history of the victim, Grant Kuenzli, 43.

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A new defense team has filed an appeal of the second degree murder conviction of Harold Fish.

However, a new group of lawyers filed an appeal for a new trial, funded by a defense fund established by Fish's family and friends.

In addition, a close friend of the victim who once pushed hard for Fish's conviction and a long prison sentence, has done an about face and said the mild-mannered, life-long high school teacher has already paid his dues after serving two years of his 10-year sentence.

Once Fish's harshest critic, John McCauley told Arizona Republic reporter Peter Corbett, "The punishment that Harold Fish has received is sufficient. I don't care. Let him go."

Only two years ago, during Fish's second-degree murder trial in Flagstaff, McCauley, a close friend of Kuenzli, loudly and actively campaigned to have Fish convicted for the trailside shooting after a confrontation between Fish, Kuenzli and three dogs.

The case triggered a vigorous debate about self defense shootings, since Fish carried a gun on hikes. Fish maintained that the unleashed dogs threatened him and that when he fired his gun to scare away the dogs, Kuenzli attacked him. However, the jury convicted Fish of murder.

McCauley wrote half a dozen letters to the editor of the Roundup defending Kuenzli's character and calling on Fish to plead guilty.

After Fish was convicted in July 2006, McCauley wrote, "Thank God there was a jury that unanimously convicted Fish based upon the facts, evidence, forensics and testimony."

About three months later, after NBC Dateline aired a story about the killing, McCauley wrote again to say the story was biased in Fish's favor.

He wrote, "Dateline was able to do something that the judge forbid -- try the victim and his past -- which had absolutely nothing to do with Fish's right to shoot and kill Grant Kuenzli."

In October 2004, McCauley e-mailed a former Roundup reporter to ask if the reporter could help him obtain, from attorneys "numerous affidavits supporting that Grant was some kind of nut."

McCauley wrote he wanted to prove the investigation was being conducted in a one-sided manner and defense attorneys were trying to discredit Kuenzli.

McCauley's most recent statements to the media now suggests he believes that Fish has paid his dues and should be released. That development comes on the heels of the establishment of the legal defense fund for the former teacher.

The funds will be used to pay legal fees for Fish's plea for a new trial.

Spearheading the plea to the Arizona Court of Appeals are Flagstaff attorneys Lee Phillips and John Treborn.

"There are a host of issues (on which to grant a new trial)," Treborn said.

Among those he identifies are Judge Mark Moran's refusal to allow testimony about Kuenzli's bizarre behavior and medical history that included psychiatric treatment and counseling in Mesa and at Rim Guidance Center in Payson.

Also, the judge would not allow testimony that Kuenzli was taking medications for depression and anxiety.

Moran's ruling meant the jury never heard testimony about Kuenzli's background, that included a description of his almost hermit-like existence in the nearby national forests.

The defense, which was led by Phoenix attorney Mel McDonald, also gathered evidence concerning Kuenzli's alleged reputation for aggression and sometimes violence, which the judge also barred from the trial.

Treborn says another basis for granting a new trial is the medical examiner's testimony that Kuenzli's wounds were defensive -- which suggested to the jury that Fish had initiated the attack.

The attorney handling Fish's appeal calls the examiner's testimony sheer opinion with no factual basis.

When told about McCauley's statements that he believed Fish had paid his dues and should be released, Treborn replied only, "wow."

McCauley did not return phone calls about the statements he gave other media.

Following Fish's conviction in August of 2006, Moran sentenced him to 10 years in prison, the mitigated minimum sentence for second-degree murder.

Fish is serving his time in an Arizona State Prison complex in Buckeye. He has eight years remaining on his sentence.

Since his conviction, state lawmakers have changed Arizona defense laws to shift the burden of proof onto the prosecution to show a shooting is not justified for self-defense.

However, a judge ruled that the new law was not retroactive to the date Fish shot Kuenzli.

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