Jury finds undocumented immigrant not guilty of murder of Kate Steinle

A jury has found Jose Ines Garcia Zarate not guilty in the murder of Kate Steinle, the woman whose shooting death on a San Francisco pier in 2015 ignited an immigration debate.

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Garcia Zarate was acquitted of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and manslaughter. However, he was found guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Garcia Zarate, of Mexico, had been deported several times and has previous convictions for re-entry after deportation. Before the killing, he had been released from a San Francisco jail after a minor drug charge was dismissed. While U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had issued a detainer for Garcia Zarate, he was released under the city’s sanctuary laws.

Michael macor/San Francisco Chronicle/AP
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, right, is led into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, left, and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garciaor, center, for his arraignment at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco on July 7, 2015.

Garcia Zarate had claimed he found the gun used in the shooting wrapped in a T-shirt under a bench and that it went off accidentally, The Associated Press reported. But prosecutors argued he carelessly pointed the weapon at people. The Bureau of Land Management previously said that the gun belonged to one of its enforcement rangers and was stolen from a federal agent’s car.

The case gained national attention during the 2016 presidential race when then-candidate Donald Trump cited it as an example of why the sanctuary cities, which limit a city’s cooperation with the federal government’s efforts to enforce immigration law, should be ended.

It was so quiet in the courtroom when a member of the jury read the verdict that “you could hear a pin drop” because everyone was “very anxious” to hear it, said Lyanne Melendez, a reporter for San Francisco ABC station KGO who was in the courtroom.

Defense attorney Francisco Ugarte offered his condolences to the family after the verdict was read, telling reporters Steinle’s death was an “incomprehensible tragedy.”

Ugarte added the case “was used to foment hate” and “catapult the presidency.”

“Today was a vindication for the rights of immigration,” he said. “We have to reflect on how we talked about this case,” adding that nothing about Garcia Zarate’s race and immigrant status had any…

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