Jim Steinle, father of Kate Steinle, speaks during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 21, 2015.
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
A jury on Thursday found the undocumented immigrant who shot and killed 32-year-old Kate Steinle on a San Francisco pier in 2015 not guilty in her death.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, who was in the US illegally after previous deportations, had been released from a San Francisco jail several months before the shooting — in spite of a request by federal immigration authorities that he continue to be detained. The case drew attention to San Francisco's “sanctuary city” policies, which then-candidate Donald Trump blamed for Steinle's death at the Republican National Convention.
Jurors considered charges of murder and involuntary manslaughter, and they found Garcia Zarate not guilty. He was found guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate
San Francisco Police Department via AP
Lawyers for Garcia Zarate had argued that characterizing him as a violent immigrant didn't line up with the evidence. The bullet that killed Steinle first ricocheted off the concrete walkway, which they said showed the shooting had been an accident, the Associated Press reported. Zarate had picked up the gun while it was wrapped in clothing, his attorneys said, and didn't know what he was holding until the gun went off.
But prosecutors argued that Garcia Zarate brought the gun with him and pointed it at Steinle after sitting on the pier for more than 20 minutes and thinking about his actions. Jurors were instructed to consider charges against him of first- and second-degree murder, and involuntary manslaughter.
“He did kill someone. He took the life of a young, vibrant, beautiful, cherished woman by the name of Kate Steinle,” San Francisco Deputy District Attorney Diana Garcia told the jury on Nov. 21, according to the AP.
Defense attorney Matt Gonzalez had on Nov. 20 told jurors that prosecutors' version of events was a “wild narrative of a desire to hurt someone he does not know.”
Deliberations lasted six days after the monthlong trial.
Her father Jim Steinle had previously testified at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee about her death and the need for a better system to get undocumented immigrants with felony records off of US streets — suggesting it could be called Kate's Law.
“Due to unjointed laws and basic incompetence of the government, the US has suffered a self-inflicted wound in the murder of our daughter by the hand of a person that should have never been on the streets in this country,” he said.
Kate's Law became a rallying cause for some conservatives, particularly on then-Fox News host Bill O'Reilly's program, and a frequent campaign talking point for Trump as he advocated for building a wall at the US-Mexico border.
“This senseless and totally preventable act of violence committed by an illegal immigrant is yet another example of why we must secure our border immediately,” Trump said in a statement after Steinle's death. “This is an absolutely disgraceful situation and I am the only one that can fix it. Nobody else has the guts to even talk about it. That won't happen if I become president.”
He again spoke about her death at the Republican National Convention.
“My opponent wants sanctuary cities,” Trump said. “But where was the sanctuary for Kate Steinle?”
Kate's Law was passed by the House of Representatives in June 2017, stripped of language that would have required mandatory minimum prison sentences for deported felons who reenter the US. It has not yet been voted on in the Senate.
Her brother Brad Steinle has also accused Trump of sensationalizing her death, adding he doesn't believe the construction of a border wall shows common sense.
“Donald Trump talks about Kate Steinle like he knows her,” he told CNN in 2015. “I’ve never heard a word from his campaign manager, I’ve never heard a word from him … I don’t want to be affiliated with someone who doesn’t have the common courtesy to reach out and ask about Kate, and our political views and what we want.”