SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — The jury has found Jose Ines Garcia Zarate not guilty on all charges in the death of Kate Steinle on a San Francisco pier in July 2015.
A jury of six men and six women began deliberating last Tuesday and reached a verdict Thursday afternoon, on the sixth day of deliberation.
They acquitted Garcia Zarate, a Mexican citizen and undocumented immigrant, of all charges in her death. He was found guilty of a firearms possession.
Jurors were faced to decide whether Garcia Zarate was a hapless homeless man who killed Kate Steinle in a freak accident or a calculated murderer playing a sick game.
32-year-old Kathryn Steinle was shot and killed by Garcia Zarate while walking with her father along San Francisco’s waterfront on Pier 14 on the evening of July 1, 2015.
Garcia Zarate was previously deported five times and also had seven prior felony convictions for drugs, investigators said. His criminal past dates back to 1991.
Steinle’s death stirred a heated debate over immigration and the city’s sanctuary city status.
Garcia Zarate had been released from the San Francisco jail about three months before the shooting, despite a request by federal immigration authorities to detain him for further deportation proceedings.
During the presidential race, then-candidate Donald Trump cited the killing as a reason to toughen U.S. immigration policies.
But national politics did not come up in a month-long trial that featured circumstantial evidence and extensive testimony from ballistics experts.
The semi-automatic handgun used to kill Steinle was stolen from a federal Bureau of Land Management ranger a week before the shooting.
The prosecution argued on Monday that Garcia Zarate was playing his own “secret version of Russian roulette” when he deliberately fired into an unsuspecting crowd and killed the Pleasanton native.
But the defense argued that the 40-caliber Sig Sauer pistol went off accidentally after Garcia Zarate, 45, found it under his seat on the pier. The bullet ricocheted off the ground, traveling about 80 feet before striking Steinle, attorney Matt Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez told jurors that prosecutors were pushing a “wild narrative of a desire to hurt someone he does not know.”
“Kate Steinle was wiped off the earth” because of the defendant, the prosecutor said, adding “the gun gave him power.”
“It was his secret. He wanted to fire the gun,” Garcia said.
In a police interrogation, Garcia Zarate admitted to firing the gun, but also claimed he was aiming at a seal.
“If it was an accident, why didn’t he say so?” Garcia asked.
The shooting could not have been accidental as the defense has argued, the prosecutor said, because it takes force to pull the trigger.
However, Gonzalez told jurors it doesn’t take much effort to pull the trigger of the Sig Sauer, comparing it to the trigger of a squirt gun.
The defense has argued that the Sig Sauer is prone to accidental discharges, and called its own forensic firearms expert who testified that the facts of the shooting point to an accidental discharge.
The defense attorney asked the jury: “Is it manslaughter or is it an accident?”
Garcia Zarate was formerly known as Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, one of several aliases he is known to have used. KRON4 and other media outlets previously identified him as Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez.
Steinle’s brother says she always thought of others before herself.
“Kate had the biggest heart,” her brother said, telling the story of how in recent months she gave her brand-new jacket to a homeless man on a cold night.
The message to her mom, who bought it for her: You’ll have to get me a new one. “That’s just how Kate was,” Brad Steinle said.
“There’s just something incredibly special about her,” according to her best friend, Nicole Ludwig. “She was incredibly genuine. She had the most pure intentions.”
Here is the full statement from public defender Jeff Adachi:
San Francisco— San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi released the following statement today following the acquittal of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate on murder and manslaughter charges.
“Mr. Garcia Zarate is extremely relieved by today’s verdict. The untimely death of Kate Steinle was a horrible tragedy. That tragedy was compounded when it was used as political fodder for then candidate Donald Trump’s anti-immigration agenda. The facts of this case were largely uncontroverted: a gun was found on the pier and it accidentally discharged, ricocheting from a distance of nearly 80 feet. But the prosecution inexplicably charged an accident it as a first degree murder. Despite the unfairly politicized atmosphere surrounding this case, jurors focused on the evidence, which was clear and convincing, and rendered a just verdict.”
- KATE STEINLE MURDER TRIAL THAT SPARKED IMMIGRATION DEBATE UNDERWAY
- RANGER WHOSE GUN USED IN PIER 14 SLAYING WAS PROMOTED
- CITY OFFICIALS TO ASK KATE STEINLE’S FAMILY TO DISMISS LAWSUIT
- DONALD TRUMP SAYS HE WOULD PASS LAW AFTER KATE STEINLE
- PIER 14 SHOOTING VICTIM WAS ‘LOVING, SMART, BEAUTIFUL’
- SUSPECT IN PIER 14 FATAL SHOOTING PREVIOUSLY DEPORTED 5 TIMES