HOLBROOK — Last Monday, a jury in the trial of Taylor resident Joey Fish, 19, found him not guilty of two counts of kidnapping and two counts of sexual abuse.
However, the jury found him guilty of two counts of unlawful imprisonment, which can be either a Class 6 felony (the least serious of any felony) or a Class 1 misdemeanor (see below).
Fish was indicted by a Navajo County Grand Jury on Nov. 28, 2017, on four charges stemming from an incident in the boy’s locker room at Snowflake High School on Nov. 20, 2017. Fish had allegedly twice held down a younger boy and groped his genitals.
The week-long trial before Navajo County Superior Court Judge Dale Nielson ended Friday. The jury began deliberations on Monday and reached a verdict after two hours and 50 minutes.
The courtroom was tense during the wait. Fish had about 20 family members and friends keeping him company. Teen-aged boys were playing games on their electronic devices and roughhousing a bit with each other. Middle-aged family and friends chatted quietly; one elderly man slept. At one point, they all gathered for a group prayer.
The victim, his family and friends waited with a victim advocate in a separate room next to the county attorneys office. Prosecutor Rob Edwards who presented the state’s case was not present, Deputy Prosecutor Patrick Zinicola stood in for him. Defense counsel Bruce Griffen busied himself with legal work and called in by phone to another court proceeding in a different county.
The jury consisted of six men and two women. Arizona law allows for a jury of eight if the criminal charges in a case do not carry 30 years or more in prison. Members of the jury deliberating in a different room, periodically appeared in the hallway waiting to use the restroom. They seemed cheery. Their demeanor and the relatively quick verdict augured well for Fish.
The type of kidnapping charges filed against Fish were serious, and carried a maximum term of 12.5 yeas in prison on each charge. The state alleged that Fish unlawfully restrained the victim with the intent to “inflict a sexual offense.” The jury didn’t buy it. Instead, they were convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Fish unlawfully retrained someone—thus their verdict on two counts of unlawful imprisonment. They just flatly rejected the sexual abuse charges.
Griffen told The Independent that his client accepts responsibility for “failed judgment” in the locker room antics, and praised the verdict as a win for “common sense.”
Fish will now be interviewed by the probation department which will prepare a pre-sentence report to help the judge determine an appropriate sentence.
There is one more legal snag to resolve: Unlawful imprisonment is a misdemeanor if the victim was let go before the defendant was arrested; if not, it’s a Class 6 felony, and the jury didn’t make a distinction. It will be up to the judge, who also listened to the evidence, to make that characterization. The maximum incarceration time for a Class 1 misdemeanor is six months in jail (prison is not available for misdemeanors); for a Class 6 felony the maximum is two years in prison, but for a young defendant with no prior convictions, any prison time seems unlikely. There is no mandatory minimum sentence for either class of offense.
Sentencing is set for August 6.