Garcia Zarate Sentenced to Time Served in Jail

But the story's not over for the man acquitted in the death of Kate Steinle — he now faces felony charges from the Trump Administration.

Francisco Ugarte and Matt Gonzalez from the Public Defender’s Office leave court with lawyer Tony Serra, Jan. 4, 2018 (Photo: Nuala Sawyer)

The San Francisco trial of 45-year-old Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, who was accused of killing Kathyrn Steinle on Pier 14 in July, 2015, ended in court Friday with a 3-year sentence. Garcia Zarate, who has been in jail since his arrest, will be released in the coming days for time served, but will immediately be transferred to federal custody to await a trial on charges filed by the Trump Administration.

The day’s events in court began with a request for a new trial from the Public Defender’s Office, challenging the one conviction in the case: being a felon in possession of a firearm. Garcia Zarate was found not guilty on the charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and assault with a semi-automatic firearm, but his lawyers argued that even the one count he was convicted of should be overturned. 

Based on evidence presented in court and Garcia Zarate’s statements, he picked up the gun — which was wrapped in a T-shirt or some sort of fabric — under a bench on Pier 14, not aware of what it was. When it went off and the bullet ricocheted into Steinle’s back, fatally wounding her, Garcia Zarate panicked and immediately threw it in the Bay. 

Defense attorneys Matt Gonzalez and Francisco Ugarte focused on what “possession” really means — and disclosed that this was an issue the jury had questions about while debating their verdicts.

Gonzalez claims that Garcia Zarate only knew he was in possession of a gun for a moment, after it went off and before he threw it in the water. “It’s a miscarriage of justice if he’s convicted of possession of a firearm for a split second after it goes off,” he argued, comparing it to handing someone an envelope filled with contraband. If the person accepted the envelope, then opened it, realized what was inside, and immediately dropped it — should they really be charged with possession?

But their arguments were in vain: Feng denied the request for a new trial. He sentenced Garcia Zarate to 3 years and 48 months of parole but waived all court fees for the defendant out of his lack of ability to pay. When Diana Garcia from the District Attorney’s Office began to protest, Feng shut her down. “Let’s be real here,” he said.

While this trial has wrapped up, the story is far from over for Garcia Zarate. Presumably in response to the verdict not ending up how the Trump Administration wanted it to, the federal government filed charges against him of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and being an”alien” in possession of a firearm on Dec. 5, less than a week after he was acquitted by a San Francisco jury. 

And he has a new lawyer defending him on federal charges: J. Tony Serra, who has a storied history of defense cases. 

“This is retaliatory,” Serra told the media after the sentencing on Friday, referencing federal charges. “There’s going to be a motion made right at the beginning for dismissal predicated on vindictive prosecution which is disallowed under federal and state law. We’re going to ascertain whether or not there was collusion between the federal authorities and the state authorities, and if so we can bring a motion to dismiss on double jeopardy grounds.”

Serra didn’t skimp on his political opinions, either. “The motions will be leveled against the Trump Administration, everything that Trump has said with regard to this case, and generically what he’s said with regard to immigrants,” he said. “A vote for guilty in the federal case is a vote for Trump.”

Garcia Zarate will appear before Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James in federal court Monday.  




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