California appeals court reverses sole conviction in San Francisco pier killing of Kate Steinle by deported illegal immigrant

FILE - This undated file booking photo provided by the San Francisco Police Department shows Jose Ines Garcia-Zarate, a homeless undocumented immigrant who was acquitted of killing Kate Steinle on a San Francisco pier in 2015. A California state appeals court has thrown out the sole conviction against Jose Ines Garcia-Zarate who fatally shot a woman on the San Francisco waterfront in 2015, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. (San Francisco Police Department via AP, File)

By JULIET WILLIAMS, Associated Press  SAN FRANCISCO (AP) 08/30 — A California state appeals court on Friday threw out the sole conviction against an immigrant who fatally shot a young woman on the San Francisco waterfront in 2015 in a case that sparked a national immigration debate.

Jose Inez Garcia-Zarate was acquitted of murder in the killing of Kate Steinle, who was walking on a pier with her father when she was struck by a bullet in the back in July 2015. The appeals court overturned a single conviction on a charge of being a felon in possession of a gun.

The case against Garcia-Zarate, who was in the country illegally and had been deported five times, was a regular talking point in Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential stump speeches.

The 1st District Court of Appeal overturned the gun conviction because the judge failed to give the jury the option of acquitting Garcia-Zarate on the theory he only possessed the weapon for a moment.

The ruling means prosecutors have the choice of retrying him in San Francisco Superior Court on the single count, but it may have little real impact because Garcia-Zarate remains in custody facing related federal charges.

Garcia-Zarate said he unwittingly picked up the gun wrapped in a T-shirt, and it fired accidentally. The bullet ricocheted off a concrete walkway and struck Steinle, who was with her father and a family friend.

FILE – In this July 17, 2015, file photo, flowers and a portrait of Kate Steinle remain at a memorial site on Pier 14 in San Francisco. A California state appeals court has thrown out the sole conviction against an immigrant who fatally shot Steinle on the San Francisco waterfront in 2015. The 1st District Court of Appeal on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, overturned a gun conviction against Garcia-Zarate because the judge failed to instruct the jury on one of his defenses. Garcia-Zarate is in custody and facing federal gun charges. (Paul Chinn/San Francisco Chronicle via AP, File)

 

The weapon used in the shooting belonged to a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger who reported it stolen from his car parked in San Francisco.

Defense lawyers argued on appeal that because Garcia-Zarate held the gun for such a short moment, he couldn’t be convicted of illegal gun possession.

Prosecutors argued that the jury instruction lapse was harmless because Garcia-Zarate admitted firing the gun and experts said he couldn’t do so without pulling the trigger.

The court disagreed, saying the jury’s verdict showed they rejected the prosecution theory that the shooting was intentional or even negligent and they had asked the judge to define possession and whether there was a time requirement for possession.

“These questions go to the heart of the momentary possession defense,” Justice Sandra Margulies wrote in the 3-0 decision. “The fact the jury asked whether there was a time requirement for possession suggests jurors were wrestling with how long defendant had the gun.”

Public defender Matt Gonzalez, who argued the case before the jury, said the improper instruction meant that Garcia-Zarate did not get a fair trial.

“This really wasn’t a close call. We were entitled to the instruction, and we should’ve had it. We thought that Mr. Garcia-Zarate would have been acquitted had the jury been instructed this way, so this is very gratifying for us,” he said. “He picked up an object not knowing what it was, it fired, and he threw it to the ground when it did fire.”

Garcia-Zarate, who was facing deportation proceedings at the time of his arrest in the killing, had been released by county jail officials three months before the tragic event.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials had requested that the Sheriff’s Department inform them of his release date and hold him until they could pick him up. But San Francisco’s sanctuary city policy barred local law enforcement officials from cooperating with most federal immigration investigations.

Trump referred to the shooting on the campaign trail as he railed on sanctuary cities and argued for tougher immigration policies.

After the acquittal in 2017, Trump called the verdict in “disgraceful” in a Tweet, and former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions blamed the sanctuary city policy for Steinle’s death.

Garcia-Zarate was sentenced to three years in prison on the gun charge, but he ended up serving no additional time because of time he spent behind bars awaiting trial.

He was taken into custody, however, on federal charges, where he awaits trial Jan. 13 for gun possession.

Tony Serra, the attorney who is representing Garcia-Zarate on federal charges, said the state reversal means the district attorney will have the option of re-trying Garcia-Zarate on the gun charge.

“That kind of error causes reversals all the time. Then the prosecution has the prerogative of going again,” Serra said. “It’s going to be a big potential decision on what they’re going to do.”

Gonzalez said in a typical case it would not be likely for prosecutors to retry a defendant on a charge for which he cannot serve any more jail time, but “given the political nature of the case, it’s anybody’s guess as to what they will do.”

The San Francisco district attorney’s office was weighing its options, spokesman Alex Bastian said. The state attorney general’s office, which argued the case on appeal, also said it was reviewing the case Friday.

___

Associated Press Writer Brian Melley in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

https://www.apnews.com/fb17503464d64ef491db390cbcb8cdb9

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Posted in: Acquittals, Appeals, Border Control, Convictions, Court Rulings, Crime & Criminals, Deaths, Deportation, Firearms, Homicide, Illegal Immigration, Sanctuary Cities/States, Shootings, Victims of Crime

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

6 + three =

Terms of Use for Posting Comments

Terms of Use

This site (the “Site”) is operated and maintained by Law Enforcement Education Foundation, Corporation (“Company”). Throughout the Site, the terms “we”, “us” and “our” refer to Company.  The words “user,” “you” and “your” as used herein refer to you.

Please read these terms and conditions of use (“Terms of Use”) carefully before contributing content. If you do not agree to these Terms of Use, please do not contribute content. Your use of the Site is subject to the Terms and Conditions found here .

By contributing content to the Site, you represent and warrant that you are at least eighteen (18) years old and that you have read and understand these Terms of Use and any amendments thereto and agree to be bound by them. If you are not at least eighteen (18) years old or you do not agree and accept these Terms of Use, you are prohibited from contributing content.

From time to time, we may permit users to submit content to the Site.  You hereby acknowledge and agree that by submitting remarks, comments, suggestions, ideas, graphics, feedback, edits, concepts, comments, photographs, illustrations and other materials (other than personal information and/or registration information) through the Site (individually and collectively, “Submissions”), you (i) grant us a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable and fully sub-licensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, distribute, publish, create derivative works from and publicly display and perform such Submissions throughout the world in any media, now known or hereafter created, without attribution to you; (ii) grant us the right to pursue at law any person or entity that violates your and/or our rights in your Submissions; and (iii) forever waive any and all of your rights, including but not limited to moral rights, if any, in and to your Submissions, including, without limitation, any all rights or requirements of attribution or identification of you as the author of the Submission or any derivative thereof.  We reserve the right to remove any of your Submissions from the Site, in whole or in part, without notice to you, for any reason or no reason.

Submissions are made voluntarily. Any submissions which include personally identifiable information are subject to our Privacy Policy found here .  You may not upload or otherwise publish content on the Site that (i) is confidential to you or any third party; (ii) is untrue, inaccurate, false or other than an original work of your authorship; (iii) that relates to or impersonates any other person; (iv) violates the copyright, trademark, patent or other intellectual property rights of any person or entity; (v) contains any content, personally identifiable information or other information, or materials of any kind that relate or refer to any other person or entity other than the provider of the products, goods or services to which the Submission relates; or (vi) violates any law, or in any manner infringes or interferes with the rights of others, including but not limited to the use of names, information, or materials that (A) libel, defame, or invade the privacy of any third party, (B) are obscene or pornographic, (C) are harmful, threatening, offensive, abusive, harassing, vulgar, false or inaccurate, racially, sexually, ethnically or are otherwise objectionable or otherwise contrary to the laws of any place where such Submissions may be accessed; (D) constitute personal attacks on other individuals; (E) promote criminal, immoral or illegal activity; (F) promote or advertise any person, product or service or solicit funds; or (G) are deemed confidential by any contract or policy.

You are solely responsible for any Submissions you make and their accuracy. We take no responsibility and assume no liability for any Submissions posted by you or any third party.

Unless approved by us in writing in advance, you agree not to: (i) provide or create a link to the Site; or (ii) create any frames at any other sites pertaining to any of the content located on the Site.

We reserve the right, in our discretion, to update, change or replace any part of these Terms of Use for Posting Comments by posting updates and/or changes to our Site.  It is your responsibility to check this page periodically for changes.  Your continued use of, and/or access to the Site, following the posting of any changes to these Terms of Use for Posting Comments, constitutes your acceptance of those changes.