Atrail runs wild over Rimrock and High Mesa, through some of the West’s most spectacular country. An 800-mile line from Mexico to Utah, the Arizona trail is a jagged spine of chaparral, cactus and pine.
Sometimes the trails are confusing. There are twists and turns, places where you must decide—which way?
Life can be like that too. It was especially so for Harold Fish on that fateful day.
Harold Fish: If only I’d gone a different day or if I’d gone earlier, or if I’d gone later. Or “if I this,” “if I that.” You know we’d “if” this to death.
Harold Fish’s story is set in a place of beauty. You come to the pine forests of Central Arizona for release, for solitude, for a challenge.
Fish: I like hiking. I like Arizona… going through wilderness areas—going across mountains that normally you wouldn’t normally see.
For 57-year-old Harold Fish, traversing the entire state of Arizona was a life-long goal. The retired high school Spanish teacher began hiking before he married his wife Deborah in 1985 and he continued his trips over the years, as their family grew to include seven children.
On May 11, 2004 he planned a day long solo hike on Arizona’s Pine Canyon Trail, which begins in the Tonto national forest.
John Larson, Dateline correspondent: It’d been a good day on the trail.Fish: Oh yeah.Larson: Exactly what you’d hoped for.Fish: Yes.
Fish neared the end of the trail in the early evening. He says he was tired but felt relaxed from his day-long hike. He says his plan was to exit the trail, walk back to his car, and call it a day.
But Fish’s serene hike through the forest took a turn he never expected when he crossed paths with a stranger.
Fish: I looked out and I could see the top of a car.
At the head of the trail, he says he saw a man camped by his car with two dogs.
Fish: His head picks up, the dogs alert. And I just raised my hand, you know, just to let him know that I’m just a hiker going through here.Larson: So you wave at him?Fish: Yeah. I raised my hand. I just you know, like, “I’m here. I’m a guy—I’m friendly.” So I get to about right in here, and when I look up, here come these dogs running very quickly, fangs showing, barking, running right at me.Larson: Just these 30 yards, right here?Fish: Yeah, just coming right here and at that point I’m yelling at him, “Hey control your dogs!”
But, Fish says, the man didn’t try to stop the dogs. Fish always carries a pistol with him when he hikes, he says to protect him from wild animals. He says he pulled out a 10 mm gun he had with him that day—and fired a warning shot into the ground.
Fish: One dog went off to the left and stopped right over there by the tree there. The other one went off into the brush there.
The dogs were out of the way, but Fish says the man began charging down the hill at full speed.
Fish: I yell at him, “I didn’t shoot your dogs” or “I didn’t hurt your dogs.” And he’s yelling back at me as he’s coming, he says, in a kind of strange voice “I’m going to hurt you. I’m going to kill you,” and he’s swinging, kind of punching at me. I’m yelling at him. “I didn’t shoot your dogs. No. Don’t. Get back. Leave me alone. No!”
Fish says he feared for his life.
Fish: One minute I’m just walking through the woods, oblivious to him or anything else. And the next minute I’ve got two dogs barking and snarling, trying to bite me, and an angry man following right after them, yelling that he’s going to get me, going to kill me, swinging his fists.Larson: And you’re convinced this guy actually was going to kill you?Fish: Yeah.
Fish fired three shots. The man fell to the ground.
Larson: When he falls, does he say anything?Fish: No. Never did.Larson: Do you say anything?Fish: Yes. I—I—for the first five seconds or so, I was angry. But obviously, he was hurt. So after about five seconds of losing my cool and then getting angry at him, you know, then I tried to do what I could to help him.
Fish says he put his backpack under the man’s head, and covered him with a blanket, as seen in the sheriff’s department video.
He says he then tried to use his cell phone to call 911 — but couldn’t get reception in the remote wilderness.
He hiked to the nearest highway, and managed to flag down a car. The driver used the “On-Star” system in his car to call for help.
Paramedics soon arrived at the scene of the shooting and found the man dead.
The father of seven with no criminal record was now questioned by police late into the night and the following morning.
Fish says he fully cooperated with the authorities.
Fish: I didn’t say I’m not gonna talk to you. I want an attorney.
The lead sheriff’s detective on the case told the media he thought Fish had acted in self-defense.
Larson: Were you thinking, “This is all over now?”Fish: Yes. We thought it was.Larson: It wasn’t.Fish: No.
They were two strangers, whose lives tragically crossed on this beautiful, peaceful hiking trail. To many, it seemed like a clear case of self-defense: a family man with no criminal record and no reason whatsoever to shoot another man he didn’t even know.
But, when word of the shooting got out, many in this area began to come to the dead man’s defense, saying that Harold Fish should be prosecuted for murder.
Arizona’s Pine Canyon trail is a rugged beauty—a difficult hike beneath a peaceful ridgeline. But the silence of the trail was shattered by gunfire one day in 2004, and only one man was left to tell his side of what happened.
John McCauley, Grant Kuenzli's friend: Mr. Fish is the only one that has a story. Mr. Grant Kuenzli is dead. He doesn’t have a story. He can’t defend himself. I am here to defend him.
John McCauley got to know 43-year-old Grant Kuenzli four months before Kuenzli lost his life on the trail. They met in this dog park in Payson, Arizona.
The two men developed a close friendship that grew out of their love of animals. McCauley and his dogs would spend a lot of time with Kuenzli and his yellow lab, Maggie.
McCauley: We would talk for hours about various things. He was like a son to me.
McCauley says that at the time of the shooting, Kuenzli was living out in the forest but was very connected to the local community. He says his friend would come into the town of Payson every day to shower at the gym, and then would take dogs from the Payson Humane Society to exercise them.
In fact two of the dogs Kuenzli had with him that day on the trail— Hank and Sheba— were on loan from the Humane Society.
McCauley says he was in shock when he heard of his friend’s death and that something about Harold Fish’s story did not sit right with him. He did not believe his friend wanted to kill or even hurt Fish.
McCauley: He was definitely running down to stop the dogs from barking and harassing Mr. Fish.Larson: You don’t think he was trying to attack Mr. Fish?McCauley: No, definitely not. Grant was not a person that would have threatened anybody.
McCauley circulated a petition in town to support his friend.
McCauley: He was known by 300 people that attested to the fact that he was in fact a nice person.
Linda Almeter, Grant Kuenzli’s sister: Grant was a wonderful, caring, sensitive, humble person.
Grant Kuenzli’s sister, Linda Almeter, believes her brother, who from a young age adored animals and as an adult worked as a fire inspector, would never hurt anyone.
Almeter: He chose to spend his life doing things that made a difference to other people and to him.
Almeter does not believe Fish’s claims of self-defense. She thinks he mistakenly overreacted, leading to tragic results.
Almeter: And the world will never be the same for any of us.
Kuenzli’s friends and family were not the only ones who believed Harold Fish needed to be held responsible for what happened—so did the Coconino County attorney’s office. They charged Fish with second degree murder.
Prosecutor Michael Lessler: The case was about whether or not you can shoot an unarmed person, whether the circumstances in this case justified it.
The case generated local and national attention. Dog lovers were pitted against gun lovers. It fueled the debate on gun control versus self control. The National Rifle Association even got involved, partially sponsoring Harold Fish’s defense fund.
Harold Fish was not held in jail. He spent two years with his family preparing for trial. A conviction could bring up to 22 years behind bars and away from his wife and kids.
Harold Fish says of all his seven children, it’s his youngest daughter, two-year-old Marian, who has kept him going.
Fish: I won’t let them put me in jail for something I didn’t do for Marian. I’m not gonna do that. She’s gonna know her dad. And her dad hopefully will be exonerated. I hope that she grows up never knowing what happened, or at least not finding out about it for a long, long time.
Harold Fish’s journey was about to take him from that scenic hiking trail into a courtroom, where a jury would decide where the defendant’s fate would lie.
The trial began in April of 2006 in Flagstaff, Arizona. The prosecutor argued that Kuenzli’s death was not an act of self defense.
Lessler (in court): By his own account, Mr. Fish had not been threatened with any weapon — not a knife, not a gun, not a stick.
The prosecutor realized this would be an emotional case. After all, the defendant was a retired high school teacher, father of seven, and had no criminal record. But, he told the jury, this case is not about Harold Fish’s character. It’s about behavior and about accountability for the choices we make.
Lessler: This case and the evidence you will see and hear is not about a bad man doing evil things. This case in short is not about character. It is about behavior.
What behavior exactly? Well, prosecutors suggested that Fish, angered by the victim’s dogs, overreacted on that trail, using way too much force, then covered his tracks and lied about the threat he’d faced to save his own skin.
Lessler: Mr. Fish is, in my judgment, an extraordinarily self-righteous man.Larson: You think there’s an arrogance there? Lessler: Absolutely. Mr. Fish believes that life should be lived by the way that Mr. Fish lives his life, and by his sense of morality, and that if people violate that they should be dealt with sternly.
The prosecution zeroed in on Fish’s story, starting to pick it apart, beginning with the timeline.
Fish told the original lead detective on the case that he shot Grant Kuenzli about 6:30 p.m. A woman, camping with her friends about a half a mile away, told police on the scene that she heard the shots much earlier—somewhere around 5:30 p.m.
And the man Fish flagged down on the highway said Fish waved him down at about 6:40 p.m..
The prosecutor wanted the jury to ponder the question: If the shooting did happen at 5:30, why did it take more than an hour for Fish to get help? Had he intentionally lied about what time the shooting happened in order to help his claim of self-defense?
Lessler: Mr. Fish knew darn well that he had shot an unarmed man and that he could not justify the shooting. He made a strategic decision to stay and spin the case his way, as opposed to leaving, probably getting away with it, but running the risk that if he ever were caught he couldn’t ever claim self defense.
Prosecutor Lessler then pointed out Fish had different versions of exactly what Kuenzli had said to him on the trail. Did Fish make up a tale about threats from the victim to justify the shooting, then have trouble keeping his stories straight?
This sergeant took Fish’s first statement at the scene:
Sergeant who took Fish’s first statement: He reiterated to me he was in fear for his life because the person running at him was saying, ‘I’m going to kill you, you son of a b*tch!”
But later that night, Fish said he couldn’t remember what Kuenzli had said to him. The prosecutor played a tape from an interview with Fish—
“I’m trying to remember exactly what he said, you know, whether he said ‘I’m going to kill you’ or… he said something I can’t remember what it is.”
And Fish later told a grand jury something else. He said Kuenzli may have said “I’m going to kill you, I’m going to hurt you, or I’m going to shoot you.”
Lessler: He took time to think that through. The problem is that when you do that under that kind of stress, it’s extraordinarily difficult to keep your story straight.
Next, the medical examiner’s testimony called into question Fish’s description of an enraged stranger charging at him.
The witness explained that Grant Kuenzli was shot three times in the chest, and one of those bullets went through his right hand before hitting his chest.
Medical examiner: This wound to forearm and the wound of the hand would necessitate the arms to be in front of the torso and those are the types of wounds we’ve described in other cases as a defensive type posture.
Was Kuenzli actually trying to defend himself from Fish, rather than the other way around as Fish claimed?
And then, a shocking statement from the medical examiner: He said the position of Kuenzli’s arm may prove he was actually standing still when he got shot—not running towards Fish as he had claimed.
Medical examiner: It would be an unusual position for someone walking or running to have a right hand across body like that.
Could Fish have shot a man standing still?
And the jury had another issue to think about: Fish’s gun.
The firearms investigator said that Fish’s gun — a 10mm — is more powerful than what police officers use and is not typically used for personal protection. And the ammunition Fish used to shoot Kuenzli three times, called “a hollow-point bullet,” is made to expand when it enters the body.
When he decided to pull the trigger, the prosecutor said, Fish should have known what the consequences would be.
Lessler: Mr. Fish knew well what a hollow-point bullet does.Larson: And the end product of his shooting is going to be death?Lessler: Yes.
And what about Fish’s argument that those dogs that charged him were aggressive and violent? The prosecutor argued this was just not true.
A veterinarian neutered Hank, the chow mix. She says she will not neuter an aggressive dog.
Vet: If I have an aggressive animal from the Humane Society I recommend euthanasia.
A woman got to know Sheba, the Shepherd mix, while working at the Payson Humane Society.
Witness: She’s not aggressive at all.
The prosecutor said the evidence in the case can be best summed up by one question: “Why warn the dogs and shoot the human being?”
The prosecutor was confident about his case. He believed Kuenzli’s death was unnecessary—and Harold Fish should be found guilty of second degree murder. But the defense was about to make it’s case. And they would argue character, not behavior, was the key to proving Harold Fish acted in self defense.
The jury had been taken through the thicket of the Fish case by the prosecutor, who had said all roads lead to one conclusion: Harold Fish was a murderer.
But was there another route through the evidence?
The defense had a road map of its own:
Defense opening: He’s a father, he’s a retired teacher, he’s a scout leader, he’s a wonderful citizen in this community. The state are trying to tell you. “Let’s label him a murderer” for something he didn’t promote, he didn’t initiate. He was a victim
While the prosecution said this case was about behavior, not character, the defense argued that character actually dictates behavior. For the defense, Harold Fish’s character was the key to proving he had acted in self-defense.
Mel McDonald and Bruce Griffin are Fish’s attorneys.
Mel McDonald, defense attorney: It’s the kinda guy that you never see getting in trouble with the law. Everything about his character and background was exemplary.
Fish’s wife Deborah took the stand to testify to his character.
Deborah Fish, Harold's wife: He’s very loving. His family is the most important thing to him. The good old boy scout ethic, “You don’t lie, you don’t cheat, you’re honest, you always tell the truth.”
And the defense argued Fish was telling the truth when he claimed he feared for his life and had no option but to shoot with a very powerful weapon.
Despite the prosecution’s claims that the dogs in this case were not aggressive—the defense argued that at least one of these animals had a vicious nature.
The Payson dog catcher described Hank as a “fear biter” back in 2003.
And what about the gun Fish carried with him? Remember the prosecution said that this is a weapon more powerful than what most police officers carry. The defense said there was nothing wrong having that gun; in fact he needed it in the wilderness.
McDonald: He wasn’t going out hunting people. He had the weapon to protect himself against predatory animals.
Moreover, the defense stressed that Harold Fish was licensed to carry a concealed weapon and had special training that would have made it less likely for him to overreact.
Michael Anthony is a gun expert involved in concealed weapons legislation and training. He told the jury a trained person knows how to evaluate when a threat really justifies using a firearm.
Michael Anthony, gun expert (in court): The standard is whether a person is in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury or death.
A trained shooter, the defense suggested, would only fire his gun if he had to.
And what about shooting the victim in the chest? Wasn’t that going too far?
No, said the defense.
The expert testified that in concealed weapons training, people are taught to always shoot at the center of the body—never at a hand, or a foot.
Anthony: Students are taught to shoot to what we call the center of mass. The object of this exercise is not to kill somebody it’s to stop the threat.
And, another part of the training is that after someone is shot, to provide assistance and summon help. Which the defense argued is exactly what Harold Fish did. After Kuenzli fell to the ground, Fish Fried to help him. Fish placed his backpack under Kuenzli’s head, covered him with a blanket, and flagged down a vehicle to get help.
Were these the actions of a cold blooded killer?
McDonald (Dateline interview): His intention that day was not to kill Kuenzli. His hope was that he could stop him and get assistance for them, and that is a humane act to do.
And another fact in the defense’s favor: Not only did he help the man who he had shot, he was also very cooperative with the authorities. But remember, the prosecution argued that some of the statements Fish gave over time to authorities were inconsistent, suggesting he was making up a story to cover his tracks.
The defense dismissed this as nit-picking.
McDonald: It would be impossible for people to remember every statement and get it exactly the same every way as he talked to different people.
And what about that seemingly damning testimony from the medical examiner, who’d said the victim may have been trying to defend himself—could even have been standing still when he got shot?
On cross-examination the witness backed off, leaving open the possibility that the victim was really on the offensive when fearful Harold Fish shot him.
Defense lawyer: You’re not trying to say by your answer you can go into mind of Mr. Kuenzli and interpret what his action was at the time, can you sir?Dr. Horn, medical examiner: Absolutely not.Defense lawyer: And what you were intending to say was that simply the hands were in front of torso.Dr. Horn: Yes.Defense lawyer: We could just have easily said offensive as defensive and in fact in your answer you can’t say which one.Dr. Horn: That’s correct.
Harold Fish never testified in court, but he made his case to Dateline.
Harold Fish: I didn’t feel guilty of having done anything criminal. I was not a murderer. I did not feel that way. I was just merely trying to stop him and defend my life.
Fish insists he had no other options than to shoot this man.
John Larson, Dateline correspondent: Why not hit him? Punch him?Fish: You know I just didn’t think it would work. To be honest with you, it didn’t really even occur to me.Larson: Why not fend him off? You have a gun in your hand and if nothing else that’s heavy metal. Hit him.Fish: Never thought of it. All I can tell you is I knew, I absolutely knew that if I didn’t stop him with that gun and I mean by using gun fire that he was gonna be all on me and that was it.
But remember Fish’s lawyers said this case was about character. Not just about Harold fish’s character, but Grant Kuenzli’s character.
McDonald: You had an individual, a troubled man, who for the preceding five years had severe problems with self-control to the point that he would literally terrify responsible citizens.Larson: He was a loose cannon? McDonald: A loose cannon out of control.
There was a lot more to learn about Grant Kuenzli, but would the jury ever hear it?
Two lives had intersected on an Arizona trail. Grant Kuenzli’s ended there. Now Harold Fish was on trial for murder.
What really happened that terrible day? And by what route had they come to this deadly spot?
Mel McDonald, defense attorney: What we want to do is to give jurors an appreciation of what happened. Let them get to know the two people that were involved in that day. Character does dictate behavior.
The victim’s supporters— including his sister Linda Almeter— insisted he would never hurt anyone.
Linda Almeter, Grant Kuenzli's sister: Grant’s an honorable, noble, responsible, caring, loving person.
But not long after the shooting, a darker side of Grant Kuenzli emerged. While some saw him as a gentle, dog-loving volunteer, there were reports of an unstable, violent past.
Ernie Encinas, fire marshal for Gilbert, Arizona: He would go from zero to hot in a very short amount of time.
Ernie Encinas is the fire marshal for the Gilbert, Arizona fire department. He hired Kuenzli as a fire inspector in 1997. At first, he seemed like a good employee. But he says things changed quickly.
Encinas: He would get mad, he would clench his fist, he would hit the table, he would pace back and forth, his voice would elevate.
Encinas says when he read Harold Fish’s account of what happened on that hiking trail when he encountered Kuenzli, it was almost like a flashback for him.
Encinas: I could actually see in my mind’s eye Grant’s fist. I could see his face. I could see how he acted with me. So it wasn’t hard for me to imagine what Mr. Fish might have seen.
Steve Corich is the director of public safety at Mesa Community College. One morning in 2003, a security officer found Kuenzli walking his dog on campus without a leash. When the officer confronted him, Kuenzli became agitated.
Steve Corich, director of public safety at Mesa Community College: He was loud. His fists were clenched. All of his body language essentially conveyed that he was extremely angry. And it took quite a while to calm him down.
In his 26-year career, Corich says Grant Kuenzli stands out.
Corich: He had one of the hottest and quickest boiling points of any of the people I’ve ever dealt with. Clayton Hamblen, justice of the peace: His look was one of “I would like to rip your throat out.”
Clayton Hamblen has been a justice of the peace in West Mesa for 15 years. One day, Grant Kuenzli showed up for a court hearing with his dog, when Hamblen suggested he leave the dog outside. He says the dog owner became aggressive.
Hamblen: He began to clench his fists. His eyes got a look that was just almost downright scary.
Hamblen says Kuenzli seemed more concerned for the well being of his dog than people.
Hamblen: I said “The man is either going to kill somebody or somebody is going to kill him.” And that was my feeling… that was just a gut reaction.
Then there are police reports from an ex-girlfriend, who says when she tried to break up with Kuenzli, he stalked her and broke into her house. She wrote in a court affidavit that Kuenzli once attacked a male friend of hers and she even told police Kuenzli sexually assaulted her. She obtained two orders from the court to keep him away.
And there is evidence that Kuenzli was mentally unstable in the past. A police report from 2002 says he threatened to commit suicide with a knife. And mental health records indicate that Kuenzli received treatment for a panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder and a mood disorder.
The defense attorneys believed Kuenzli’s history was relevant and should be heard by the jury.
Mel McDonald, defense attorney: This character evidence corroborated to the letter every point that Harold Fish had given to police that night. Everybody that dealt with Kuenzli knew that he was a ticking time bomb.
But the judge in this case limited what the witnesses could say, ruling they could only speak in general terms. The victim’s mental health records were ruled inadmissible as well.
Still, the defense was able to put on a series of witnesses whose descriptions of Kuenzli made him sound potentially threatening— including the justice of the peace from Mesa, Kuenzli’s former boss the fire marshal, and the director of public safety at the community college.
In all, 10 people took the stand to talk about Kuenzli’s reputation for aggression and violence.
For Kuenzli’s sister though, none of these things matter.
Linda Almeter, Grant Kuenzli's sister: His character for better or worse is irrelevant in this whole situation as far as I’m concerned. He was shot and killed by a total stranger.
Although Kuenzli’s mental health records were not entered into the trial, the medical examiner did tell the jury that the anti-depressant Effexor was found in Kuenzli’s system at the time of his death. The amount of the drug in his system was in the normal therapeutic range.
The defense believed it had built a case to prove Harold Fish was legitimately fearful of Grant Kuenzli, and that his actions were justified when he shot him.
McDonald (in court): If we believe reasonably that we are about to lose our lives, we have the right to say no and to stop that threat.
Which path would the jurors choose? It was up to them to decide whether Harold Fish acted in self defense, or should be held responsible for murder.
Harold Fish’s future depended on the jury choosing one of two paths: Was Grant Kuenzli’s death an act of self-defense or was it murder?
In closing arguments, Defense Attorney Mel McDonald reminded the jury they could not ignore the character of both men involved in the case. Wouldn’t an aggressive, angry man like Grant Kuenzli have scared Harold Fish into shooting him? Could a man like Fish, who’d done so many good things in life, be capable of such a bad thing?
Mel McDonald, defense attorney: A 57-year-old father of seven, a sterling record throughout his life, a guy with a dream to hike the Arizona trail on about the middle of his journey that’s covered 20 plus years and he walks into a guy that you heard from the character witnesses—a perfect storm.
But Prosecutor Michael Lessler argued this case was not about character—it’s about behavior.
He urged the jury to follow the law in their deliberations.
Michael Lessler, prosecutor: Mr. Fish shot him three time in the chest with this high powered gun, hollow point bullets and caused his death. That’s murder.
Harold Fish’s future was now in the hands of eight people. The jury would decide whether this father would go home to his seven kids, or off to prison for up to 22 years.
We sat down with two of the jurors—the jury foreman, an information technology director, and a teacher.
When the jury first sat down to deliberate, they recalled, the room was split.
Michael Nelson, juror: It was about four/four. John Larson, Dateline correspondent: Four for acquittal, four for guilty?Nelson: Yeah.
The jurors told us each side had made a persuasive case. Character did turn out to be a big issue in this trial. These jurors say the panel believed the defense’s argument that Harold Fish was a good guy.
Meagan Elliot, juror: He was a very serious man. A very dedicated man to his family. To his career as a teacher.
And they did take note of the witnesses who said Grant Kuenzli had a reputation for aggression.
Larson: A number of people testified that Grant Kuenzli was a violent, aggressive person. Nelson: Right. Larson: What did you make of that testimony?Nelson: I believe it. I believed he could be in certain circumstances.
Still, the jurors also bought the prosecutor’s argument that this case was about behavior, not character.
Elliot: It wasn’t about Mr. Fish’s character as a good guy. It’s not about Mr. Kuenzli’s character as a bad guy.
The jurors knew to find Harold Fish acted in self-defense, they had to believe that a reasonable person in fish’s situation would have done the same thing.
Elliot: We spent many hours on that trying to decide “Well, is he reasonable? Are we reasonable? What do we think? What is the definition of reasonable?” We were having a hard time with that.Larson: Looking from the outside, I mean, he seems like a reasonable man. He’s led a reasonable life.Elliot: Right. I think that’s what the defense was doing with a lot of his character is proving to us this is a very reasonable man. Nelson: One of our jurors, and I counted her as kind of the voice of reason there, she brought up, “You know, if this isn’t self-defense, then what is?”
The prosecution painted Fish as a calculating liar. The jurors were easier on him.
Elliot: I never thought he was lying or being evasive. I thought his memory—he made mistakes, or some of the things he said, that maybe he told Mr. Kuenzli or Mr. Kuenzli told him, were things that went through his head, but didn’t necessarily come out his mouth. Larson: Which might be understandable, under the situation. Elliot: Absolutely.Larson: —regardless of how it went.Elliot: Absolutely. Plus, if they had all been the exact same, then I’m gonna have a lot bigger problem thinking he’s rehearsing his story and he’s planning it.
However they did wrestle with whether the incident unfolded exactly as Fish had described. Did the two men exchange heated words?
Elliot: I don’t think there was time for there to be an angry standoff. I think he looked up, saw a man running at ‘em, and shot.
Several jurors were also concerned about the way Fish changed his story about what time the shooting occurred.
Nelson: I don’t think that he was calculating. But I think he was strategizing. He was devising a strategy for how he’s going to handle the situation.Larson: So, you think that discrepancy on the time, 5:30, 6:15 p.m., is important?Nelson: Yeah.Elliot: Mm-hmm (Affirms).
The jurors believed Fish did the right thing in helping Kuenzli after the shooting, but some were troubled about whether he could have done more.
Nelson: Why didn’t he try to stop the bleeding? Why didn’t he try to pack the wound? He was a scout master.
And this juror was disturbed by the type of bullets Fish used.
Elliot: The whole hollow point thing bothered me. That bullet is designed to do as much damage as absolutely possible. It’s designed to kill.
Finally, all of the jurors reacted strongly to the testimony of the medical examiner.
Nelson: He made a very specific statement saying that it was very unusual considering the nature of those wounds, that they could have occurred while walking or running. So my explanation is; he stopped.Larson: So this idea that he may have been stopped, that these may have been defensive wounds, played huge?Elliot: Absolutely. Nelson: It was major.
In this room, for two days, the jurors went back and forth over every argument. Then they sent a note to the judge:
Harold Fish knew a guilty verdict could mean up to 22 years behind bars, and away from his wife and seven kids. But he believed a jury would understand that he shot Grant Kuenzli in order to defend his own life.
Harold Fish: I cannot today tell you that I would’ve done it any other way than what I did then.
And now Harold Fish was about to find out. After two days of deliberations, the jury had reached a verdict.
Verdict reading: We the jury do find the defendant Harold Fish guilty of the crime of second degree murder.
A guilty verdict for Harold Fish: The jury believed Harold Fish’s shooting of Grant Kuenzli was not self defense—they saw it as a tragic mistake for which the gunman had to be held accountable.
Meagan Elliot, juror: We saw that self-defense was not your only option. John Larson, Dateline correspondent: You’re thinking the best bet is that Hal Fish overreacted. Michael Nelson, juror: Yeah. Elliot: Absolutely. Larson: Maybe in a panic. Elliot: Yes. Larson: And had it been allowed to play out another 5, 10 seconds, it might not have been necessary to shoot him? Nelson: Tragic, tragic accident.
We wondered if the jurors had known more about Grant Kuenzli’s past, would it have made a difference to their verdict?
Elliot: We still had the evidence of this incident, at this scene, at this moment. And all those things, while damaging to Mr. Kuenzli’s character, have nothing to do with what happened on May 11th, 2004 out in the woods between Mr. Kuenzli and Mr. Fish, and the evidence that was presented to us.
On sentencing day, the victim’s sister asked for the maximum sentence: 22 years.
Linda Almeter: There has been absolutely no hint of remorse, no apology, no attempt to make amends on the part of Harold Fish.
But Harold Fish’s wife Deborah told the judge their seven children needed their father at home.
Deborah Fish, Harold Fish's wife in court: It will be me and my children who suffer the most by not having their father and husband there.
Harold Fish, who did not testify during the trial, now had the opportunity to address the court.
Harold Fish: I feel that I am an innocent man that stands before you today. I do not think the trial was fair.
Fish responded to those who say he has not shown remorse for Kuenzli’s death.
Harold Fish: The first 24-48 hours after this shooting occurred were horrendous. I found myself in private shedding tears for a man who tried to kill me
He says he’s not proud of what happened.
Fish told the court he could have left the scene but decided to stay and do what he thought was the right thing.
Harold Fish: Could I have left? Could I have just turned my back in callous fashion and just gone away? Of course I could. I knew no one had seen me. Maybe in the foolishness of my heart, I thought the truth would be a defense. I knew it was my word against a dead man’s.
After hearing all the arguments, all the testimony, the judge spoke candidly about the case.
Judge: This case does give new meaning to the word tragedy. I do believe he reacted out of fear and instinct when he shot and killed Grant Kuenzli. He made a split second decision with tragic consequences.
It was time for Fish to learn his sentence.
Judge: Mr. Fish, I do sentence you to the mitigated term of imprisonment of 10 years in the Department of Corrections for the death of Grant Kuenzli.
Ten years in prison: no possibility of parole.
Before the trial, Fish told us what a prison term would mean for his family.
Fish: If I go to jail or go to prison for ten, 15, 20 years, what good does that do my family? They know I’m innocent. They know I’m in jail. As long as I’m there, they’re always dealing with their father.
“Where’s your father?” “He’s in prison.” “What’s he in prison for?” “Second-degree murder. But he didn’t do it.”
They were strangers on a trail. Fate had brought them together.
Now one would never see this beautiful place again, would never breathe the air. The other would have to serve his time.
Now their story was over. And out there in the wild, the paths remained— winding their way across the land. Leading wherever they may.
Arizona law was changed recently, in part, because of this case. Now, instead of a defendant having to prove he acted in self-defense, the burden is on the prosecutors. They must prove a defendant did not act in self-defense. Arizona’s Supreme Court is expected to rule later this month on whether the new law applies to a similar case. That ruling could affect Harold Fish’s appeal.