SAN FRANCISCO – Today, on December 4, 2019, the San Francisco District Attorney dismissed all charges against Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, who was accused of murder and other charges relating to the tragic death of Kate Steinle in July 2015. It took the criminal justice system four and a half years to reach this conclusion, even though, ever since early July 2015, it was clear based on scientific evidence that the shooting was an accident: the result of a single shot ricochet that travelled more than ninety feet.
San Francisco police investigators and crime lab technicians, after conducting an investigation shortly after the shooting, concluded that the case involved a long distance ricochet from a fully loaded weapon with no manual trigger safety. The fully loaded gun had been unsafely stored in the backseat of a federal agent’s car near the Embarcadero. The car was burglarized, not by Mr. Garcia Zarate, and somehow the gun ended up under a swivel chair on Pier 14. Mr. Garcia Zarate, homeless, sat down on the chair, picked up a discarded bundle from under it, and in so doing, accidentally discharged the gun which was wrapped inside the bundle. Only one bullet discharged from the gun. The gun was pointed at the ground, the bullet ricocheted off the concrete floor, travelling ninety feet before hitting Ms. Steinle. All facts in this case were the hallmark of a tragic but accidental discharge of a gun — and indeed, due to the ubiquitous nature of guns in this country, more than one person is killed each day from an accidental shooting.
Even though the prosecution, police, and defense were all aware that these undisputed facts pointed toward factual innocence, the DA nevertheless charged Mr. Garcia Zarate with intentional murder, and aggressively prosecuted him.
Donald Trump, then campaigning for president of the United States, used the case to promote his false narrative about dangerous Mexican immigrants, rushed to judgment, and called on the public to demonize and deport the undocumented. The national press, including CNN, the Associated Press, Washington Post, and Fox News, followed suit — simply repeating Trump’s narrative without criticizing it, and without acknowledging that the forensic evidence pointed toward innocence. They sold stories, but they ignored the facts.
But facts do matter, and by the time an independent jury of 12 people had an opportunity to determine guilt or innocence, they unanimously chose innocence on the charges of murder as well as involuntary manslaughter. The jury did convict Mr. Garcia Zarate of possessing a gun. However, Mr. Garcia Zarate appealed that conviction because the trial judge failed to instruct the jury that momentary possession constituted a defense to the charged crime. Three independent judges — including a former prosecutor — unanimously held that Mr. Garcia Zarate’s conviction should be reversed because he had a valid defense, namely, that he did not know the bundle he picked up contained a gun.
Yet despite these undisputed facts, President Donald Trump and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions have demanded further prosecution of Mr. Garcia Zarate. He now faces federal charges for gun possession, and is exposed to ten years in prison.
Francisco Ugarte, one of the lawyers on the criminal case, said, “The final outcome in this case exposed Donald Trump’s false and racist narrative about immigration. We were representing an innocent man, whose place of birth and immigration status are irrelevant to the facts of this case. We are absolutely convinced that a federal jury will see through the Trump Administration’s politicized motives in this unjust new case against Mr. Garcia Zarate, and will find him factually innocent of criminal charges.”
Mr. Garcia Zarate was represented by the San Francisco Public Defender defense team of Matt Gonzalez, Francisco Ugarte, Michael Hinckley, Zachary Dillon, Danielle Thompson, Clare Kane and the late great Jeff Adachi.
The federal trial against Mr. Garcia Zarate is scheduled for January, 2020.