The undocumented man whose alleged "momentary possession" of a loaded firearm resulted in the 2015 death of Kate Steinle on a pier in San Francisco remains behind bars on federal gun charges, and two of the public defenders who represented him in court say it's about time the Biden Administration lets him out.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges almost four years ago, after his defense attorneys successfully argued that Zarate had found a semi-automatic pistol under a swivel chair at Pier 14, and that the bullet that killed Steinle had ricocheted off the pavement before hitting her. Garcia Zarate had, he said, been shooting at a "black fish" in the water off the pier, but the evidence suggested the gun had gone off the moment he picked it up, firing only a single shot. Steinle was standing 90 feet away when she was killed. He then said he tossed the gun into the Bay because he was afraid it would "keep shooting."
Garcia Zarate was homeless at the time, and his initial confession in the case included multiple details that pointed to mental health issues.
Now, those attorneys, Matt Gonzalez and Francisco Ugarte, have posted an open letter on Medium, appealing to Biden Administration officials to right what they say are the wrongs committed by the Trump Administration — which filed "politically motivated indictments" reviving gun charges against Garcia Zarate as soon as the state acquitted him of them.
He remains in federal custody on charges of being a felon in possession of a gun and ammunition, and being an undocumented immigrant in possession of a firearm and ammunition, but his trial has been delayed because of ongoing questions about his mental competency.
"Three separate courts have now accepted facts pointing to Garcia Zarate’s innocence," Gonzalez and Ugarte write. "So why is he still in prison? Isn’t it time to do something about this politically motivated injustice?"
Garcia Zarate's case made national headlines and sparked a flood of conservative ire about San Francisco's and California's sanctuary policies, because he had been deported back to Mexico multiple times for other crimes before the shooting death of Steinle. And former President Trump, during his openly xenophobic and racist rants in the 2016 campaign, would repeat the narrative about dangerous immigrants roaming the country many times, using Garcia Zarate as an example.
If and when Garcia Zarate is ever tried or exonerated on the gun charges, he'll no doubt be deported once more, however the case will be thrust back onto Fox News as well.
Former U.S. attorney David Anderson said in 2019 that "a repeatedly deported, previously convicted felon has no right to possess a firearm under federal law, even if California extends him sanctuary."
Gonzalez and Ugarte argue that Steinle's death occurred for one primary reason, "because we’re a country with over 400 million guns in private hands."
And, they say, "Like President Biden did with Trump’s litigation positions on the Affordable Care Act, voting rights, and sentence reductions under the First Step Act, he must reverse Trump’s position here."
Photo: Jay A. Martin