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Court may decide on self-defense law

Question in several cases: Is new law retroactive?

Faced with conflicting rulings by lower courts, the Arizona Supreme Court will consider a request that justices decide whether a new state law on self-defense should apply retroactively.

The law took effect immediately upon Gov. Janet Napolitano’s signature April 24.

Justice Michael D. Ryan on Wednesday ordered expedited consideration of Maricopa County prosecutors’ appeal of a trial judge’s decision in a Maricopa County case that the law should apply retroactively to the case because it was pending when the law took effect.

The Supreme Court will consider the matter Sept. 26.

The petition filed by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office noted that two other trial judges, one in Maricopa County and one in Pima County, ruled in other cases that the law was not retroactive.

The state Court of Appeals’ Phoenix division declined to consider special-action appeals of the judges’ rulings in the Maricopa County and Coconino County cases while the same appellate court’s Tucson division is considering whether to uphold the trial judge’s ruling in the Pima County case.

Ryan on June 9 refused to block the resumption of the murder trial of Harold Arthur Fish, a retired Phoenix-area teacher who claimed self-defense in the fatal shooting of another man during a 2004 confrontation on a hiking trail north of Payson.

After the trial resumed with closing arguments and legal instructions earlier this week, a Coconino County Superior Court jury on Wednesday convicted Fish of second-degree murder in the killing of Grant Kuenzli. Fish said he shot Kuenzli with a pistol when Kuenzli charged him after Fish fired a warning shot to keep away two dogs with Kuenzli.

Fish faces 10 to 22 years in prison.

Instead of making a defendant prove he acted in self-defense by the relatively low standard of proof of more likely than not, the new law requires that prosecutors prove by the stiffer standard of beyond a reasonable doubt that a self-defense claim was unfounded.

The Maricopa County case stems from a 2005 shooting in which Marcos Carrasco Mendez was charged with aggravated assault and unlawful discharge of a firearm.

Another man was shot after two fistfights between him and Mendez.

The Tucson case involves the 2004 killing of Alexis Samaniego in an early morning shooting in an apartment. David Rene Garcia awaits trial on a first-degree murder charge.

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