The biggest local trial of 2017 officially wrapped up today, as the jury concluded that Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an undocumented, homeless, 45-year-old Mexican citizen, was not guilty in the killing of Kathryn Steinle in 2015.
The case came to trial fairly quickly, as far as these things go, and for weeks local and national media has lined up in the hallway outside the courtroom, documenting every statement from every witness and, days later, hungrily waiting for a verdict to be reached.
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. He was found guilty on the charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Matt Gonzalez of the Public Defender’s office represented Garcia Zarate, arguing throughout the trial that his client did not intend to shoot the gun, but instead found it on Pier 14 wrapped in a t-shirt. When he picked it up, the gun went off accidentally.
The bullet’s trajectory, which ricocheted off the pier’s surface before hitting Steinle in the lower back, appears to support the claim that Garcia Zarate was not pointing the gun at her directly when it was fired.
And, as only a trace amount of gunshot residue was found on Garcia Zarate’s hands after he was arrested, his statement that the gun was wrapped in a t-shirt when it was found appears reasonable.
But prosecutor Diana Garcia fought a passionate case, claiming that the gun was not easy to shoot without actively pulling the trigger. She called witnesses to justify that point — but was dealt a serious blow when Judge Samuel K. Feng barred retired police Inspector John Evans from testifying a second time when it was discovered that he was a defendant in a federal civil lawsuit alleging that police misconduct led to a wrongful murder conviction. Evans was the only witness called to the stand who said that Garcia Zarate aimed the gun in her direction and actively pulled the trigger.
Francisco Ugarte, who also defended Garcia Zarate, touched on how this case was used to push forth destructive legislation and political careers.
“From day one this case was used to foment hate, to foment division, to foment the program of mass deportation. It was used to catapult the presidency along that philosophy of hate of others. I believe today is a vindication for the rights of immigrants, and that today we have to reflect all of us on how we talked about this case in the beginning, and how this is a reflection and a reaction on the base of the racial dynamics of this case.
“Nothing about Garcia Zarate’s ethnicity, nothing about his immigration status, nothing about the fact that he was born in Mexico has any relevance as to what happened on July 1, 2015. ”
Gonzalez took the opportunity make a couple cutting remarks about the White House, and several people in power who have used the case for their own political gain.
“There are a number of people who have commented on this case in the past few years: the Attorney General of the United States, the President and the Vice President of the United States, let me just remind them that they are themselves under investigation by a special prosecutor in Washington D.C., and they may themselves soon avail themselves of the presumption of innocence and beyond a reasonable doubt standard,” Gonzalez said to the crowds of media, after the verdict was read. “I would ask them to reflect on that before they comment or disparage the result in this case.”
This is a breaking news story. We will update as more information becomes available.