There will be no new trial for Harold Fish says Coconino County Attorney David W. Rozema.
Rozema said today, July 16, that his office will not conduct a second trial in the Fish case, in the event that the recent decision to vacate Fish’s initial trial conviction is upheld by the Arizona Supreme Court.
Rozema says they are working with Fish’s attorneys to have him released from custody.
The Arizona Court of Appeals had ordered a new trial for the 62-year-old retired schoolteacher who shot and killed a Payson man four years ago at a trailhead north of Strawberry. The state legislature just passed new self-defense rules and made those new rules retroactive so they would apply to any new trial for Fish.
The court said the original trial judge — Mark Moran of Flagstaff — erred in not allowing the victim’s past behavior to be introduced into evidence. The court also ruled that the three dogs the victim, Grant Kuenzli, had with him could have been classified as “dangerous instruments” as defense attorney Melvin McDonald asked.
“There have been two recent, significant developments in the case involving Mr. Fish,” said Rozema. “First, the Court of Appeals reversed the conviction. Second, the legislature passed a bill requiring retroactive application of the new self-defense law.”
“The attorney general’s office has the decision-making authority with respect to the appeals process in this case. It is our understanding that they will be appealing the Court of Appeals decision through the filing of a petition with the Arizona Supreme Court. We will respect whatever decision is ultimately made by the Supreme Court regarding Mr. Fish’s jury trial conviction.”
Rozema continued: “The first trial was conducted under the self-defense laws that were in effect at that time. Those laws required the defendant to prove that he acted in self-defense. Since then, the law was changed to require the state to disprove this defense, and the bill passed by the legislature makes the new self-defense law retroactive so that it now applies to the Fish case. Although the bill will undoubtedly be challenged throughout the state on constitutional grounds, that process will be time-consuming and uncertain. In a case like this one, where there is limited physical evidence and no eyewitnesses other than the defendant himself, a second prosecution under the new law is not appropriate.
“For these reasons and due to the enormous strain that these types of cases place on the limited resources of our office, we have decided in the interests of justice that we will not conduct a second trial in this case,” said Rozema.
“Finally, because a delay of two or three months or more may result before the Supreme Court makes its decision in this case and the constitutionality of the bill is decided, we are working with Mr. Fish’s attorneys to have him released from custody pending resolution of these issues,” Rozema concluded.