Undocumented immigrant not guilty of murder in polarizing San Francisco case

Saul Bowman
December 1, 2017

An illegal immigrant from Mexico was acquitted of murder and manslaughter by a San Francisco jury on Thursday in the fatal shooting of a woman that Donald Trump used as a rallying cry against "sanctuary cities" during his presidential campaign.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has threatened to cut off Justice Department funding to sanctuary cities, on Thursday condemned the jury's decision.

The jury reached a verdict in six days and convicted Garcia Zarate of possessing a firearm but found him not guilty of assault with a firearm.

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, who had previously been deported multiple times, was found not guilty of murder.

"This man, or this animal, that shot that wonderful, that attractive woman in San Francisco, this guy was pushed back by Mexico", Donald Trump told CNN in July 2015 shortly after announcing his candidacy.

Prosecutor Diana Garcia had argued the shooting was a deliberate act, while defense attorneys Matt Gonzalez and Francisco Ugarte described it as an accident, occurring after Garcia Zarate picked up a gun he found on the pier. He was also said to have been released from a San Francisco jail about three months before the shooting, despite a request from the federal immigration authorities asking to detain him for deportation. While U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had issued a detainer for Zarate, he was released under the city's sanctuary laws.

Zarate had been deported from the United States five times before Steinle was shot and killed. He had just completed a federal prison sentence for re-entering the country after deportation when he was transferred to San Francisco by federal authorities based on a warrant for a marijuana charge.

The gun was stolen from the SUV of a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger that was parked in San Francisco.

The city's sanctuary policies were not mentioned in the trial and there were only brief references to the defendant's immigration status.

Despite the national political implications, the San Francisco jury was charged with a more discreet task of criminal culpability for Steinle's death.

"A disgraceful verdict in the Kate Steinle case!"

But he told jurors that Garcia Zarate had no motivation to kill Steinle and as very bad as her death was, "nothing you do is going to fix that".

Jim Steinle, left, father of Kate Steinle, walks toward the courtroom at the San Francisco Hall of Justice on October 23, 2017. City officials have said they're not liable for a former inmate's actions.

"This senseless and totally preventable act of violence committed by an illegal immigrant is yet another example of why we must secure our border immediately", Trump said in July 2015.

In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Trump tried to link Democrat Hillary Clinton to the controversy.

The measure was introduced in the Senate but failed to get the 60 votes needed to pass.

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