Jose Ines Garcia-Zarate, the man accused in the July 2015 killing of Kate Steinle on Pier 14, was living a pretty solitary life on the streets in the couple of months before the shooting, shortly after getting released from the county jail in what has become a rallying case for the right wing around sanctuary cities. We still know hardly anything about the man, jailed ever since and about to stand trial for Steinle's murder, apart from the fact that he was homeless at the time, had drug charges on his record, and there were some suggestions in the media early on that he may have mental health issues.
The Chronicle got access to a group of black-and-white photos by hobbyist photographer Jay A. Martin, who happened to take a few portraits of Garcia-Zarate in May 2015, as he was walking along the Embarcadero one morning.
Says Martin to the Chron, "It was a beautiful day, a little bit breezy... and, as I was walking along the pier, I saw a man with a blanket around his shoulders. He seemed somewhat lost. The idea of income inequality was rising in the media, and I thought I could show that with a picture of a guy who clearly seemed to have nothing in such a wealthy city.”
The photographs show Garcia-Zarate on Pier 14, exactly where he'd be the day of Steinle's shooting almost two months later, with the Bay Bridge at his back. As the Chronicle notes, "the waterfront is popular with homeless people who want to hide out of sight."
Martin, who gave Garcia-Zarate some loose change before he left, also adds, "He said he was doing OK. It’s hard to remember the tone of his voice, but it was soft, coherent, and he could understand me in English. There was nothing about him that said I needed to back off."
Garcia-Zarate gave him the name "Lopez," as he would to police after his arrest in July, because he was living under one of several pseudonyms he used having been deported back to Mexico five times: Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez. We just learned via a court filing that Garcia-Zarate is his real name.
We still don't have any reports from friends or family about this man, two years on, and it will be interesting to hear how defense attorney Matt Gonzalez tells his client's story in court.
Gonzalez told the Chronicle that he plans to use Martin's photos during his opening statements to the jury, to "bolster the argument that Zarate is a victim of poverty and luckless circumstance rather than a dangerous killer."
During a preliminary hearing earlier this month, Gonzalez argued that Garcia-Zarate was not properly Mirandized by the SFPD and an interpreter when he gave his first statements, and thus those statements may end up being inadmissible.
Prosecutors say that Garcia-Zarate either intentionally shot at Steinle, or recklessly shot into a crowd after he found a gun that had previously been stolen and discarded. The defense intends to argue that the gun went off accidentally due to a hair trigger, and that the bullet that hit Steinle had ricocheted off another surface.