Harold Fish Shooting Case Sent Back to Trial by Arizona Court of Appeals; Expert Witness Should Be Allowed to Testify, Say Justices

Harold Fish, who's serving time for shooting a man in what he calls self-defense, will get another trial.

The Arizona Court of Appeals has reversed and remanded the high-profile case, sending it back for a new trial in which Fish can introduce testimony that was barred from his first go-around.

The case began in 2004, after Fish ran into Grant Kuenzli and his dogs while hiking on a lonely trail in northern Arizona. According to Fish, the only witness, Kuenzli charged aggressively at Fish after failing to control his unleashed canines. Fish pointed a his 10-millimeter handgun at Kuenzli, yelled at him to stop, and then fired three shots that hit the man in the chest.

Despite being sentenced to 10 years in prison, Fish still has plenty of public support. That's evident nowhere more clearly than in the state Legislature, which wants to write a law to help him.

Now that Fish is getting his new trial, legislators could tweak the law to allow him to use a new defense that helps people who want to claim self defense.

That would help him avoid re-conviction, obviously. But he may be able to gain freedom without it.

The court's opinion allows Fish to introduce evidence that Kuenzli was sort of a madman about his dogs. His description of how Kuenzli reacted in the forest was similar to how other people remember Kuenzli when confronted about his dogs.

Another discrepancy seems to have come because the state disallowed Fish from having an expert witness testify that his "fight or flight" instinct could have interfered with his memory. As laid out in the court's separate memorandum decision on the case, the justices outline why it's possible that inconsistent statements Fish gave to the police could have affected his credibility before jurors -- and how Fish's state of mind after the shooting could have affected the statements.

In our amateur analysis, the conviction for Fish was probably a fluke, anyway. Give the guy a second group of Arizonans and the exact same evidence, and he would probably be acquitted.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.