Yesterday, a California state appeals court decidedly threw out the sole conviction against 46-year-old Jose Ines Garcia-Zarate, the immigrant who fatally shot 32-year-old Kate Steinle back in 2015.
In July 2015, Garcia-Zarate — who illegally entered and stayed in the country, having already been deported five times, and served as fodder for Trump's 2016 campaign — fatally shot Kate Steinle of Pleasanton along Pier 14, fueling a nationwide debate on immigration policies. But, the incident is far more complex than a tweet-able political talking point.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Appeals court throws out sole conviction against an immigrant who fatally shot a woman on a San Francisco pier in 2015. #KateSteinle— KTVU (@KTVU) August 30, 2019
Garcia-Zarate's defense attorneys claimed that the shooting was unintentional, citing that he found the weapon wrapped in a T-shirt under his seat at the pier — and that he accidentally discharged it, upon picking it up. The stray bullet then ricocheted off of the ground, striking Steinle in the back while she was walking with her father, about 80 feet from where Garcia-Zarate was positioned.
(The firearm in question belonged to a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger, having prior reported it stolen from his car parked in San Francisco.)
Ultimately Garcia-Zarate’s defense lawyers argued on appeal that, because he had held the gun for such a short moment, he couldn't be convicted of illegal gun possession.
"It is undisputed that defendant was holding the gun when it fired. But that fact alone does not establish he possessed the gun for more than a moment. To possess the gun, the defendant had to know he was holding it," the appellate court wrote in a statement, courtesy of NPR.
The 1st District Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the trial judge made a "prejudicial" error when he failed to give the jury "the momentary possession instruction."
“This further exposes Trump’s false narrative on immigration,” said Francisco Ugarte, one of the attorneys who defended Garcia-Zarate in a statement published by the SF Examiner. “Three independent judges who reviewed the trial records reversed the decision. We were representing an innocent man and unfortunately, this became an immigration issue and this shouldn’t have been an immigration issue.”
Garcia-Zarate previously faced three years in prison on the gun possession conviction, but was sentenced to time served. Now, the 46-year-old Mexican national remains in federal custody on new immigration and gun charges; Tony Serra, Garcia-Zarate’s defense attorney, has gone on record to say that his client could be tried again on both local and state gun charges.
More on the Friday hearing can be read in the released transcript and appeals court-record, here.
Photo: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons