The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office announced Thursday afternoon that attorney J. Tony Serra will be representing Jose Ines Garcia Zarate on federal charges. Serra is best known for defending Chinatown gangster Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, who received a life sentence for racketeering and murder in 2016.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed the charges — which are being a felon in possession of a firearm, and being an “illegally present alien” — against Garcia Zarate on Dec. 5, less than a week after he was acquitted by a San Francisco jury for the death of Kathryn Steinle on Pier 14 in July, 2015.
Despite Chow’s conviction, Serra is considered to be a formidable lawyer. He defended Black Panther member Huey Newton in a murder trial in 1970, winning the case. In 1983, he defended Chol Soo Lee, who had convicted of murder ten years prior — and won that case, too. Serra has specialized in high-profile cases, even taking on clients from the Hells Angels, the New World Liberation Front, and city marijuana activists Brownie Mary and Dennis Peron.
He’s currently working on a defense for Derrick Almena, the head tenant of the Ghost Ship warehouse that burned down in 2016, killing 36 people.
Public Defender Matt Gonzalez, who, along with Francisco Ugarte, defended Garcia Zarate, says that the defendant “couldn’t be in better hands” with Serra.
“Mr. Garcia Zarate is grateful to have been exonerated of murder, as he has no history of violence,” Gonzalez says. “He is also grateful to Tony Serra for taking his case.”
Gonzales is also optimistic about the outcome. “There was clear and overwhelming evidence presented at trial that this tragic shooting was an accident,” he said. “The federal government is free to spend more time and resources on this case, but the facts have not changed. I predict a properly instructed jury will acquit Mr. Garcia Zarate in federal court.”
The Public Defender’s Office states it believes Serra will seek to have the federal charges dismissed, based on double jeopardy concerns “and the Trump Administration’s politically motivated, vindictive prosecution.”