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Overturned Murder Conviction Will Stand for Arizona Man Who Used a Firearm in Self-Defense

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fairfax, Va. -- An Arizona man who spent nearly three years in prison for justifiably shooting a man in self-defense is now free and clear of all guilt in his case. This week the Arizona Supreme Court let stand the state appellate court’s decision to overturn Harold Fish’s second-degree murder conviction. The National Rifle Association provided assistance in this case. NRA’s Office of General Counsel advised Fish’s defense counsel, and the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund provided financial aid for Fish’s defense.

Chris W. Cox, executive director of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action said, “We are pleased that justice has finally prevailed for Mr. Fish in this case that was clearly justifiable self-defense. We wish the best for Mr. Fish and his family in the future.”

In 2006, Harold Fish was convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Grant Kuenzli. Fish encountered Kuenzli and his vicious dogs while hiking on a trailside in Coconino County in May of 2004. After Fish fired warning shots at the aggressive dogs, Kuenzli tried to attack him, and Fish was forced to shoot him in self-defense. At the time of the shooting, current self-defense laws in Arizona -- which put the burden of proof on the prosecutor instead of the defendant -- did not exist. During Fish’s trial, the jury was not allowed to hear evidence that Kuenzli had acted violently in similar situations in the past. In June, an Arizona appellate court overturned Fish’s conviction, acknowledging the jury should have heard this evidence and also saying the jury was not instructed properly on the meaning of “unlawful physical force.” Attorney General Terry Goddard had asked the Arizona Supreme Court to review the appellate court’s decision, and this week they declined.

Fish’s case spawned two laws in Arizona strengthening the rights of gun owners to use a firearm to defend themselves and their loved ones. SB 1145, passed in 2006, put the burden of proof back on the state, saying that those who use firearms in self-defense are to be considered innocent until proven guilty. This year, Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1449 into law, making retroactive SB 1145, which effectively allowed Fish and others in similar positions the right to a new trial, as well as to be considered innocent in the justifiable use of force unless the state proves otherwise.

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Established in 1871, the National Rifle Association is America’s oldest civil rights and sportsmen's group.  Four million members strong, NRA continues its mission to uphold Second Amendment rights and to advocate enforcement of existing laws against violent offenders to reduce crime.  The Association remains the nation's leader in firearm education and training for law-abiding gun owners, law enforcement and the military.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.