Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an undocumented Mexican immigrant residing in the U.S., was found not guilty of murder in the death of Kate Steinle.
A Mexican man on trial for the murder of a woman in San Francisco was found not guilty before a jury on Thursday. The northern California city, referred to as a a so-called ‘sanctuary city’, came under fire for its lax immigration stance.
The incident was widely politicized two years ago by U.S. politicians calling on stricter immigration, including then-candidate Donald Trump.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, HR 3004, known as “Kate’s Law”, which was passed in response to the killing and would impose stricter punishments on undocumented immigrants who enter the U.S. after having been deported.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate did not deny shooting the woman, Kate Steinle, who was walking on a pier with her father, but instead argued that he had shot her accidentally.
Anti-immigrant activists had referenced the fact that the man had been deported five times prior to the death of Steinle as evidence of his guilt, insinuating that undocumented immigrants are inherently criminals.
Trump tweeted on Friday, pointing to Garcia Zarate's undocumented status, that "the Kate Steinle killer came back and back over the weakly protected Obama border," finishing his tweet with an exclamatory "BUILD THE WALL!"
However, Garcia Zarate did have a lengthy criminal record, with seven felony convictions that include drug charges.
Despite this record, the defense argued successfully that Garcia Zarate had no violent criminal record and that the shooting itself was an accident. According to the defense, the man had found the gun, revealed to have been stolen, under his seat on the pier and, while handling the weapon, it discharged on accident. The bullet from the gun ricocheted off the ground away from Garcia Zarate before striking Steinle in the back nearly 78 feet away.
The defense noted that, while seemingly bizarre, the accidental discharge of a firearm is not rare as 50 accidental shootings happen per day in the United States.
Garcia Zarate was, however, found guilty of firearm possession, which is illegal for convicted felons.
The family of Steinle is also seeking reparations from the city of San Francisco, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in a wrongful death lawsuit.
President Donald Trump, in a rare injection of executive opinion into judicials affairs, called the decision “disgraceful” in a tweet.
“No wonder the people of our Country are so angry with Illegal Immigration,” Trump added.
The administration of Donald Trump has capitalized on the death of Steinle to impose harsher restrictions on ‘sanctuary cities’ by coercing the cities with the threat of withholding federal funds to cities not complying with federal immigration authorities. A federal court has ruled this action unconstitutional.
“San Francisco, and cities like it, are putting the well-being of criminal aliens before the safety of our citizens, and those city officials who authored these policies have the blood of dead Americans on their hands,” the White House said in an April statement.
Garcia Zarate’s attorney, Matt Gonzalez, responded to the remarks of the president before they were even said publicly. Gonzalez predicted that Trump would make a brazen tweet about his client and reminded the president that he too was under investigation and that both he and Garcia Zarate were allowed the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
Another attorney for the defense, Francisco Ugarte, indicated that the verdict was a win for immigrant’s rights and that the case had been politicized “to catapult a presidency along that philosophy of hate of others.”
Both attorneys made it clear that the immigration status of Garcia Zarate was not relevant to the case.