Audio excerpts from about four and a half hours of the interrogation of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate during the early morning hours of July 2, 2015 were played for the jury in the murder trial of Kate Steinle Wednesday, and the lead investigator in the case took the stand and admitted to using some aggressive tactics in order to elicit a confession including lying to the defendant about how much evidence they had in the case.
As KQED recounts from Wednesday's testimony, SFPD Lt. Anthony Ravano, then a homicide investigator, led the questioning of Garcia Zarate that night, hours after Steinle was mortally wounded by a single bullet wound on Pier 14. He was joined in the interrogation room by Sgt. Chris Canning and Spanish-speaking officer Martin Covarrubias, who acted as translator.
During questioning by the prosecution, Ravano described an increasingly agitated Garcia Zarate who gave several strange and dishonest answers to questions initially, including saying that he lived in Colombia (he is from Mexico and had been in the United States for many months at this point), and that he was born in 1863. He also tried to say that at the time of the shooting he was down by AT&T Park eating crackers or cookies, "because it was dinner time," and only later would he be arrested by police for reasons he didn't understand.
Garcia Zarate would also give a fake name which was, counter-intuitively, one that was already known in federal crime databases: Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez. Part of the interrogation video was shown to jurors during Ravano's testimony.
"The videotape reveals the complexity of conducting an interrogation in two languages," KQED notes, "with two officers questioning the defendant and a third officer translating."
Between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. that morning, Ravano would press Garcia Zarate, including for an hour just before his ultimate confession that was not recorded.
When asked whether he lied to Garcia Zarate during the interrogation, Ravano said yes, as ABC 7 reports. He and the other officers told the defendant that they had recovered gunshot residue linking him to the shooting they had not and Ravano told him that they had recovered the weapon from the Bay, when the gun had not yet been found.
"Why throw the gun in the bay?" they asked. Per ABC 7, Garcia Zarate answered, "I thought it was going to continue shooting."
This statement implicated Garcia Zarate after he had initially said he stepped on the gun and it went off. The defendant described finding the gun wrapped in a cloth or t-shirt, insisting he had found it right there, near the pier.
A couple of troubling things arose out of the airing of the confession that are likely to be part of the focus of cross-examination Thursday by defense attorney Matt Gonzalez.
For one, the investigators asked Garcia Zarate multiple times what he was shooting at. At one point he said he was shooting at "a sea animal," as the Chronicle reports, though KQED has him saying "sea lion" and then correcting himself to say, "a black fish." This contradicts other statements that the gun went off accidentally. Garcia Zarate would also say that he though Steinle, or the woman he hit, was five feet away from him when in fact she was about 90 feet away.
Secondly, there is the moment in the interrogation when Garcia Zarate says the word "lawyer" multiple times, and Covarrubias translated one of his statements as " speak to my lawyers and then I will tell you the truth."
Garcia Zarate was no stranger to the American legal system at this point, having been convicted of multiple minor offenses and having just been released from SF County Jail several months earlier on a drug charge. As KQED reported in September, the defense tried unsuccessfully to argue that Garcia Zarate's ensuing statements and ultimate confession should be inadmissible in court after he invoked his Fifth Amendment right to an attorney. The prosecution argued that despite Garcia Zarate's occasional attempts to stop the questioning, he continued talking and incriminating himself, and also repeatedly asked to sign a confession.
The interrogation ended when Garcia Zarate said, in Spanish, "I just want to sign the papers that say I did it."
Gonzalez is expected to argue that Garcia Zarate's confession was coerced, and inaccurate.