SAN FRANCISCO — After nearly a week of deliberations, a jury of six men and six women found an undocumented immigrant accused of fatally shooting 32-year-old Kate Steinle two years ago at San Francisco’s Pier 14 not guilty of homicide.
A verdict has been reached in the Garcia Zarate case.
— SF Superior Court (@SFSuperiorCourt) November 30, 2017
The jury, which includes three immigrants, weighed charges against Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, 54, accused of gunning down Steinle in July 2015 while she was walking with her father in the city’s Embarcadero district. Jurors started deliberating Nov. 21 but took a break because of the Thanksgiving holiday last week.
The jury considered first-degree, second-degree, or involuntary manslaughter for Garcia Zarate, who also faces charges of assault with a semiautomatic firearm and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
The high-profile case against Garcia Zarate attracted national attention when details emerged about his immigration status. At the time of the shooting in 2015, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and others blamed San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” policy for Steinle’s death. Garcia Zarate had been deported five times but was released from a San Francisco jail after being held on a drug charge instead of being sent back to his native Mexico.
Both the prosecution and the defense kept politics and the immigration debate out of the courtroom during the four-week trial, focusing instead on evidence such as bullet trajectories, gunshot residue, and security video analysis.
The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office argues that Garcia Zarate intentionally aimed a gun at Steinle and fired at her, before throwing the weapon into the bay and running away. The defense paints the shooting as a freak accident, arguing that the gun accidentally discharged and the bullet ricocheted on the concrete pier 78 feet before hitting Steinle.
Much of the trial focused on the Sig Sauer pistol that fired the fatal shot. The weapon was stolen from a federal Bureau of Land Management agent’s car several days before the shooting. Garcia Zarate, who was homeless, said he found the gun wrapped in some sort of cloth under a seat he was sitting on at the pier. The defense called a weapons expert, who said that make of gun has a history of misfiring, while the prosecution maintained that it would be difficult to fire it unintentionally.
In the case of a hung jury, a mistrial could be declared and it would be up to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office to decide whether or not to refile charges against Garcia Zarate.
If convicted of the lesser charges, Garcia Zarate, who has served more than two years in jail, could be released but is expected to be deported if freed.