A retired schoolteacher convicted of second-degree murder after shooting a Payson man during a trailside confrontation has been released from prison.
Harold Fish, 62, was allowed to return to his wife and children after Coconino County Superior Court Judge Mark Moran, also the trial judge in the murder case, signed an order releasing him on Tuesday morning.
Fish had served three years of his 10-year sentence in Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis, near Buckeye.
Fish was convicted in June 2006 for the fatal shooting of 43-year-old Grant Kuenzli at a Coconino National Forest trailhead in May 2004.
Fish argued he acted in self-defense after Kuenzli and his dogs attacked him.
Coconino County Chief Deputy Attorney Mike Lessler contended Fish had other options and did not need to shoot Kuenzli.
A state Appeals Court overturned Fish’s conviction last month saying Moran’s jury instructions were incorrect. The court also said the jury should have been allowed to hear testimony about Kuenzli’s alleged aggressive behavior when the dogs were confronted.
Only last week, Coconino County Attorney David Rozema said he would not retry Fish partly because Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1419 into law. It shifts the burden of proof from the defense to the prosecution.
The new law was also made retroactive to the day Fish killed Kuenzli.
However, Attorney General Terry Goddard, in a prepared statement, said his office would file a petition with the Arizona Supreme Court to review the Appellate Court’s decision.
The state also said the attorney general's office disagrees with the Appellate Court’s ruling that Moran erred in barring evidence of Kuenzli’s alleged prior acts of violence concerning the dogs.
If the Supreme Court overturns the Appeals Court’s decision, Fish could again be tried, which is unlikely.
Should another trial be held, the burden of proof would shift from the defendant to prove self-defense to the prosecution to prove the act was not self-defense.
This highly controversial shooting drew nationwide attention in the fall of 2006 when Dateline NBC televised an hour-long segment that centered on the incident.
The events also generated debate around the country about the safety of hiking alone in the woods, the use of handguns in self-defense and unleashed dogs on U.S. National Forests.
After Fish’s sentence was imposed, his trial attorney, Melvin McDonald of Phoenix, called the sentence “A dark day in Coconino County. Sending a person to prison for 10 years for a split-second decision is outrageous.”