San Francisco jurors found Jose Ines Garcia Zarate not guilty in the killing of Kate Steinle in the trial that provoked a national debate over illegal immigration.
The jurors reached their verdict late Thursday in the sixth day of deliberations after receiving the case last week. The question at hand for the jury was whether Steinle’s death was a murder or an accident.
They decided the latter.
The accused Zarate was deported five times and was wanted for a sixth deportation from the United States when he fatally shot Steinle in the back in 2015 on a San Francisco pier. Zarate didn’t deny shooting Steinle, but claimed it was an accident. The killer had seven felony convictions on record.
Before he killed the 32-year-old woman with a .40 caliber handgun, the San Francisco sheriff’s department released Zarate from jail despite a federal immigration request to detain him for deportation. As a so-called “sanctuary city,” police are prohibited by local government from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.
Zarate’s defense team claimed that he found the stolen weapon used to kill Steinle on the pier that day and that it “just fired.” The .40 caliber Sig Sauer P239 handgun belonged to a federal Bureau of Land Management ranger and was stolen from his parked car a week before the shooting.
According to Zarate’s public defender, the bullet ricocheted on the pier’s concrete walkway after the weapon accidentally discharged and hit Steinle in the back, killing her. Zarate, a Mexican national, maintains it was an accident.
However, prosecutors argue that Zarate deliberately aimed the gun at Steinle and fired at her while “playing his own secret version of Russian roulette.”
President Trump threatened to withhold federal funding from cities with such policies but his executive order to do so was permanently blocked by a federal judge in California last week.
Even though Zarate’s status as an illegal immigrant was not brought up during trial, the widely-reported case has been a national issue, cited by President Trump during his campaign to show the need for stronger laws against illegal immigration. Fox News reports that jurors did not hear evidence about Zarate’s status as an illegal immigrant or the debate surrounding the case.
Following Zarate’s acquittal, his defense attorney Matt Gonzalez spoke to the press and specifically addressed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, President Trump, and Vice President Mike Pence not to comment on the case.
“Let me just remind them that they are themselves under investigation by special prosecutor in Washington D.C. and they may themselves soon avail themselves of the presumption of innocence and beyond a reasonable doubt standard,” said Gonzalez. “I want to ask them to reflect on that before they comment or disparage the results in this case.”