By Drew Gregory Lynch.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, the illegal immigrant accused of killing Kate Steinle in San Francisco on July 1, 2015, was found not guilty of all charges, except for felony possession of a firearm, in a verdict that shocked legal analysts and the general public alike on Thursday night.
The case became the center of a larger conversation about immigration and “sanctuary city” policies in the U.S., even spawning legislative proposals like Kate’s Law, which would increase prison sentences for immigrants caught repeatedly entering the U.S. illegally.
Garcia Zarate had been deported from the U.S. five times prior to Steinle’s 2015 death.
The 45-year-old faced a second-degree murder charge, but jurors were also able to consider convicting on first-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.
The gun Garcia Zarate used to kill Steinle belonged to a federal Bureau of Land Management ranger. It was stolen from his parked SUV about a week earlier.
At issue was whether or not he intended to kill the 32-year-old Steinle or whether the gun discharged accidentally, as the bullet ricocheted on the pier’s walkway before it struck Steinle, killing her, as she died in her father’s arms, a set of the facts the defense did not dispute.
Prosecutors argued Garcia Zarate was “playing his own secret version of Russian roulette” and intentionally fired into an unsuspecting crowd on San Francisco’s Pier 14.
Defense attorney Matt Gonzalez told jurors that Garcia Zarate found the gun at the pier and when Garcia Zarate unwrapped it, the Sig Sauer .40-caliber handgun accidentally discharged.
The verdict will likely only fuel a larger national discussion about the risk of sanctuary city policies, an issue President Trump repeatedly mentioned on the campaign trail and has continued to focus on since taking office.
Garcia Zarate was released from a San Francisco jail just three months before the tragedy after prosecutors dropped a marijuana charge, despite a request by federal authorities to detain him for another deportation.
Earlier this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed to crack down on such jurisdictions as part of the administration’s immigration agenda.
“The president has rightly said, ‘disregard for law must end,’” the attorney general said earlier this year. “In his executive order, he stated that it is the policy of the executive branch to ensure that states and cities comply with all federal laws, including immigration law.”
Sanctuary cities do not comply with federal authorities in holding criminal illegal aliens on ICE detainers, an effort critics say allows illegals to avoid deportation and puts public safety at risk.
Sessions’ vow to tie a city’s sanctuary status to its federal funding is a move that could affect over $4 billion in grants that are set to be dispersed by the Department of Justice in the coming years.
However, it’s a move that faces significant legal hurdles, as a federal judge recently blocked the order in a lawsuit from San Francisco and Santa Clara counties.