Mexican Acquitted in CA Case That Stirred Immigration Debate

A San Francisco jury cleared Jose Ines Garcia Zarate in the killing of Kate Steinle on a pier in 2015. Garcia Zarate had been deported five times but had been released from jail, prompting criticism of San Francisco’s sanctuary policies.

A homeless man whose undocumented immigration status intensified a national debate over sanctuary laws was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges Thursday in the shooting of Kate Steinle as she strolled with her father on San Francisco’s Pier 14 in 2015, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. In returning its verdict on the sixth day of deliberations, the jury found Jose Ines Garcia Zarate not guilty of assault with a firearm, apparently agreeing with the defense argument that the shot that ricocheted off the concrete ground was an accident, with the gun discharging after the defendant stumbled upon it on the waterfront. The panel convicted Garcia Zarate, 45, of a lesser charge of being a felon in possession of a gun, which carries possible sentences of up to three years in prison. He already has served over two years in jail and gets credit for that time.

Garcia Zarate is a Mexican citizen who was released from San Francisco jail before the killing despite a federal request that he be held for his sixth deportation. The outcome is certain to infuriate opponents of the San Francisco sanctuary policies that allowed Garcia Zarate’s release. However, he is not likely to be released in the city. Garcia Zarate may be turned over to the state prison system after sentencing. San Francisco officials have said they will turn over undocumented immigrants to federal authorities if they obtain a warrant, and Garcia Zarate is being held on a U.S. Marshals Service warrant in addition to the charges in the Pier 14 case. Prosecutors told the jury that Garcia Zarate intentionally brought the gun to the pier with the intent of doing harm, aimed the gun toward Steinle and pulled the trigger. Defense lawyers said the shooting was an accident.