A San Francisco jury found the illegal immigrant accused of killing Kate Steinle not guilty of murder Thursday, a stunning result in a case that ignited a nationwide debate over illegal immigration and sanctuary cities.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, 54, was found not guilty on all counts, except for felony possession of a weapon. Zarate faced a charge of second-degree murder, but jurors were instructed to consider first-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.
At trial, Zarate admitted to firing the shot that killed Steinle, but contended that he had picked up a gun underneath a bench on the San Francisco pier and accidentally fired it. A ballistics investigation into the shooting revealed that the bullet skipped off the pavement before hitting Steinle, lending some credence to Zarate’s claims that the shooting was an accident.
A Mexican national, Zarate was a seven-time convicted felon and had been deported from the U.S. five times before the shooting. Just months before the shooting, Immigration and Customs Enforcement lodged an immigration detainer for Zarate with the San Francisco sheriff’s office, which declined the request.
In an interview with local media, Zarate said he had made his way to San Francisco because he knew he would be less likely to be deported because of the city’s sanctuary policies. The incident sparked a nationwide debate over sanctuary cities and later became a central theme of President Donald Trump’s campaign.
This summer, the House of Representatives passed a bill known as Kate’s Law, which would toughen penalties for illegal immgirants who have been deported and then illegally re-enter the country. The bill has not been taken up in the Senate.