An undocumented Mexican immigrant, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, was found not guilty of murdering Kate Steinle by a jury in San Francisco on Thursday, November 30, 2017.
Garcia Zarate, 45, was accused of deliberately shooting 32-year-old Steinle on July 1, 2015, as she walked with her father along a pier. The prosecution sought to convict him of murder in the first and second degrees, with a substituted charge of involuntary manslaughter.
The defense argued that the gun accidentally went off as Garcia Zarate picked it up after he found it wrapped in a cloth underneath his chair. The bullet ricocheted off the ground, traveled almost 80 feet, and hit Steinle in the back, according to an expert witness.
Both the prosecution and defense agreed that there was no evidence showing Garcia Zarate stole the gun that ultimately killed Steinle. Four days before the killing, the gun was stolen from a parked car of a visiting Bureau of Land Management ranger.
The jury, consisting of six women and six men, acquitted Garcia Zarate of the murder charges. They did find him guilty of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Garcia Zarate was previously sent to federal prison for entering the United States illegally, and he was transferred to a San Francisco jail in 2015 for selling marijuana two decades ago. However, the sheriff’s office dropped the charges a few days later despite a request from federal immigration officials to detain Garcia Zarate in order to deport him. San Francisco officials do not honor federal detainer requests unless the individual, in the past seven years, has committed a violent or serious felony.
The case sparked a heated debate about illegal immigrants in the United States. Garcia Zarate had previously been deported five times and was due for his sixth deportation when Steinle was killed. Thomas D. Homan, Deputy Director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, claimed in a statement, “ICE will work to take custody of Mr. Garcia Zarate and ultimately remove him from this country.”
Defense attorney Francisco Ugarte expressed his sympathy over the loss of Steinle but stated that the ruling exonerated immigrants because the case had nothing to do with his client’s immigration status.