A San Francisco judge dismissed a defense motion for retrial Friday and sentenced the man acquitted of murder in the death of Kathryn Steinle to the maximum three-year term for being a felon in possession of a gun.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate has been in custody since shortly after Steinle’s July 1, 2015, slaying on San Francisco’s waterfront. He was credited with serving double that time — over five years.
“The court does deem that time has been served,” Judge Samuel Feng said after levying the sentence.
It marked a milestone in the case that thrust San Francisco’s policies of limited cooperation with federal immigration agents into an ongoing national controversy largely driven by President Trump and members of his administration.
But the courtroom battles to put Garcia Zarate in prison aren’t over.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued statements damning San Francisco’s so-called sanctuary city policy within hours of the Nov. 30 verdict. Garcia Zarate was released from San Francisco custody two months before Steinle’s death despite a request from ICE to hold him for deportation.
And Trump took to Twitter, calling the verdict “disgraceful” and angrily wondering why Garcia Zarate’s immigration history was excluded from the trial.
The Kate Steinle killer came back and back over the weakly protected Obama border, always committing crimes and being violent, and yet this info was not used in court. His exoneration is a complete travesty of justice. BUILD THE WALL!
The verdict indicated that jurors agreed with Garcia Zarate’s defense that the shooting was accidental. His defense argued that surveillance video from hundreds of feet away showed him discovering the gun — discarded and wrapped in cloth — moments before accidentally firing a single shot that ricocheted about a dozen feet away and then flew 78 feet before striking Steinle in the lower back.
Garcia Zarate’s defense attorneys moved for a retrial on the gun possession charge, arguing the jury was incorrectly instructed.
“The moment the gun fired, it was thrown,” defense attorney Matt Gonzalez said in court. “I think it is a miscarriage of justice if Mr. Garcia Zarate is convicted of possessing a firearm for a split second.”
Judge Feng dismissed the motion Friday, and Gonzalez said he would file an appeal.
Garcia Zarate is scheduled to make his first appearance Monday in federal court on similar gun and ammunition possession charges carrying a maximum 20-year sentence.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, whose office represented Garcia Zarate throughout his state court case, said the federal charges amounted to “a president and an attorney general who are really spitting in the face of justice.”
District Attorney George Gascón declined to say whether he supported the federal charges against Garcia Zarate.
“I believe this case was a political football — I think it was used inappropriately by people on either side,” he said after the sentencing. “We’re comfortable that the system worked the way it was meant to, even though we’re disappointed with the outcome.”
In the federal system, Garcia Zarate will have a new defense team, led by well-known Bay Area defense attorney Tony Serra.
“Shame on the federal government, shame on the Trump administration,” he said. “Shame on them in terms of bringing a retaliatory, vindictive prosecution.”
The federal government is itself a defendant in a civil case brought by Kathryn Steinle’s family, alleging among other claims that a Bureau of Land Management ranger was negligent when he left his firearm unsecured in his car when he stopped in San Francisco four days before Steinle was killed. The gun was stolen in a string of auto burglaries near the city’s Ferry Building, and no evidence linked Garcia Zarate to those thefts.
“If we want to look at responsibility, we have to look at how that gun got there,” defense attorney Francisco Ugarte said.