An undocumented Mexican immigrant was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges on Thursday in the killing of Kathryn Steinle, whose death while out walking on a San Francisco pier became a touchstone in the national debate over immigration.
A jury, which reached its verdict on its sixth day of deliberation, convicted the man, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, only of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was also found not guilty of assault with a firearm. A sentencing date had not yet been set.
Ms. Steinle’s death in July 2015 fed into a fierce debate over whether immigrants without legal status should be deported more aggressively, and over the role local law enforcement should play.
Ms. Steinle, known as Kate, a 32-year-old medical equipment saleswoman, was walking along Pier 14 in San Francisco when she was struck by a bullet and collapsed into her father’s arms. Mr. Garcia Zarate acknowledged firing the weapon, but said it was an accident.
Mr. Garcia Zarate had been homeless at the time of the shooting and had multiple felony convictions and five prior deportations to Mexico. He had been set free from jail only months before the shooting, in defiance of requests by federal immigration authorities, who had asked that he be held longer so he could be deported again.
The Steinle family has been waiting more than two years for this day. Kate Steinle was shot and killed when she was walking with her father and a friend on the pier.
Garcia Zarate, who was homeless at the time, claimed he found the gun wrapped in a piece of cloth under a swivel chair at the pier. He says he picked it up, and it accidentally fired, hitting Steinle in the back. The bullet, the defense claimed, ricocheted and then traveled 78 feet before striking Steinle.
The prosecution has always maintained that Garcia Zarate had the gun all along, aimed it at Steinle and fired. But, because, he had little experience with guns, the bullet ricocheted first, a common mistake made by amateurs.
I understand that for Garcia Zarate to have been found guilty of voluntary manslaughter (the charge on which he was being tried), the prosecution had to convince the jury that he had fired the gun intentionally. But how did they not convict him of involuntary manslaughter?
There might be a good legal explanation for this. There really might. Wait for all the details before making your decision.
I realize that I am shouting into cyclone with that advice.
This is a massive gift to Donald Trump. The jury might well have botched this case, but even if they didn’t, as an emotional and political matter, this is a complete disaster. The fact is, if that dirtbag felon had not been in this country illegally, Kate Steinle would be alive today. There’s no getting around that. A jury in San Francisco — a sanctuary city — let him walk free. There’s no getting around that either. Even if Donald Trump said nothing about this, it would be outrageous.
But Donald Trump is not going to say nothing about this. Any other president would talk about respecting the rule of law and the legal process, even when we get an unjust verdict. Not this one. And I’m not 100 percent convinced I want him to say the proper thing. In its editorial denouncing the verdict, the San Francisco Chronicle points out how illegal immigrant-friendly California has become:
Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed SB54, the “California Values Act,” which prohibits state and local law enforcement from asking about a person’s immigration status or participating in immigration raids with the feds. It also limits the authority of police and sheriffs to share information on inmates’ release dates, or to transfer people to immigration authorities. An exception would be for those convicted of one of roughly 800 crimes in the past 15 years.
A sanctuary state, they have now.
The Chicago Tribune quoted one of the defense attorneys, casting the case in a political light:
“From Day 1 this case was used as a means to foment hate, to foment division and to foment a program of mass deportation. It was used to catapult a presidency along that philosophy of hate of others,” defense attorney Francisco Ugarte said after the verdict. “I believe today is a day of vindication for the rest of immigrants.”
Did this jury do an O.J., acquitting a man who was almost certainly guilty, to troll Donald Trump? Or did the prosecution legitimately fail to make its case? Does any of that matter regarding what’s about to happen now?
I’ll have what he’s having: