A San Francisco jury found the illegal immigrant accused of killing Kate Steinle not guilty of murder Thursday, a stunning result in a case that ignited a nationwide debate over illegal immigration and sanctuary cities.
After five days of jury deliberation, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, 54, was found not guilty on all counts, except for felony possession of a weapon. Zarate faced a charge of second-degree murder, but jurors were also instructed to consider first-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.
At trial, Zarate admitted to firing the shot that killed Steinle, but the defense contended that the gun “went off” in his hands after he found it underneath a bench on the San Francisco pier. A ballistics investigation into the shooting revealed that the bullet skipped off the pavement before hitting Steinle, lending some credence to Zarate’s claims that the shooting was an accident.
The prosecution countered with evidence that the firearm, which had been stolen from a federal agent, required a firm pull of the trigger to fire, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. A forensics investigator also testified that Zarate had to have pointed the gun in Steinle’s direction for the bullet to follow the path it did.
A Mexican national, Zarate was a seven-time convicted felon and had been deported from the U.S. five times before the shooting. Just months before the shooting, Immigration and Customs Enforcement lodged an immigration detainer for Zarate with the San Francisco sheriff’s office, which declined the request.
In an interview with local media, Zarate said he had made his way to San Francisco because he knew he would be less likely to be deported because of the city’s sanctuary policies. The incident sparked a nationwide debate over sanctuary cities and later became a central theme of President Donald Trump’s campaign.
This summer, the House of Representatives passed a bill known as Kate’s Law, which would toughen penalties for illegal immigrants who have been deported and then illegally re-enter the country. The bill has not been taken up in the Senate.
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