A San Francisco jury acquitted an illegal immigrant Thursday charged with killing Kate Steinle, the 32-year-old woman whose death President Trump used to justify his proposed border wall and his crackdown on “sanctuary cities.”
In a tweet hours after Thursday’s verdict, Trump called it “disgraceful.”
“No wonder the people of our Country are so angry with Illegal Immigration,” he wrote.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions responded by continuing to blast sanctuary cities in general and San Francisco in particular. “San Francisco’s decision to protect criminal aliens led to the preventable and heartbreaking death of Kate Steinle,” he said.
Matt Gonzalez, the lead lawyer for defendant Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, responded with a mention of the Russia investigation now engulfing the Trump White House, noting that the president, Sessions and others “may soon avail themselves,” like his client, “of the presumption of innocence and beyond-a-reasonable doubt standard,” reported the San Francisco Chronicle.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, 45, a Mexican citizen, was found not guilty of murder, as well of the lesser charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon. He was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, which carries a sentence of up to three years. Federal immigration officials said they would now deport Garcia Zarate.
That would be his sixth deportation over the past several decades. After each of the first five deportations, he managed to come back into the U.S., which is part of what made the case such a cause for Trump and others.
So did the fact that on April 15, 2015, Garcia Zarate, who had a history of nonviolent crimes, was released from the San Francisco County Jail, where he was being held on a 20-year-old marijuana charge, despite a request from federal authorities that he be held for a sixth deportation.
In releasing Garcia Zarate, the sheriff at the time, Ross Mirkarimi, said he was following San Francisco’s sanctuary policy, which limited the cooperation of local law enforcement with immigration authorities. Mirkarimi was later defeated in a bid for reelection, in part because of the case, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Four months after his release, on July 1, 2015, Garcia Zarate, then homeless, was wandering around Pier 14 in San Francisco which was crowded, as it often is, with visitors.
Among them was Kathryn Steinle, better known as Kate, who worked in sales for the medical device company, Medtronic, and had recently moved in with her boyfriend in San Francisco, according to the San Jose Mercury.
Her father, Jim Steinle, who lives in the Bay Area community of Pleasonton, was with her. As she walked with her arm around him, they heard a gunshot, her father would later testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the next thing he knew she had fallen to the ground.
“‘Help me, Dad,'” were her last words, as she looked up at her father.
The bullet, fired from a .40 caliber pistol stolen from the car of a ranger with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, hit Steinle in the back and pierced her aorta. She died two hours later at San Francisco General Hospital.
At the month-long trial, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, prosecutors said Garcia Zarate arrived at the pier with the gun and deliberately fired it toward Steinle.
During the trial, prosecutors showed video of Garcia Zarate’s police interrogation, in which he gave varying stories about whether he was actually present on Pier 14 that night. He ultimately said both that he shot the gun at “seals” and that it went off accidentally when he stepped on it, ABC 7 reported.
Defense lawyers elicited an admission from police that they lied to Garcia Zarate in order “to get a truthful response,” telling him they had recovered the weapon when they had not and that there was a DNA match that implicated him, which there wasn’t at the time.
Defense lawyers had an alternative version of events. They said Garcia Zarate found the gun wrapped in a cloth on the pier and that it discharged accidentally as he held it, with the bullet ricocheting off the concrete before striking Steinle.
He hurled it into San Francisco Bay not to hide his crime, as prosecutors contended, but because he was scared by the noise of the weapon.
During deliberations, according to the Chronicle, jurors asked if they could test the trigger of the pistol, presumably to see if it could fire accidentally. The judge denied the request.
The fervor of the comments after the verdict provided just a glimpse of how politicized the case had become outside the confines of the courtroom.
Long before the trial, the case was a major rallying cry for conservatives, including Trump, who during his campaign for the White House called Steinle one of “countless Americans” who “would be alive today if not for the open border policies” of the administration of President Barack Obama – “non enforcement policies that allow thousands of criminal aliens to freely roam our streets, walk around, do whatever they want to do, crime all over the place.”
That followed his June, 2015 campaign kickoff, in which he memorably complained: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
He and other Republicans championed what became known as Kate’s Law, named after Steinle, which would enhance penalties for convicted and deported criminals who reenter the United States illegally. It passed the House but did not advance in the Senate.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Fred Barbash