On Thursday, a jury acquitted Mexican-national Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, 45, on charges that he murdered Kate Steinle in San Francisco in July 2015. An illegal immigrant who had been deported multiple times from the United States, Garcia Zarate was acquitted of murder and involuntary manslaughter charges, as well as assault with a deadly weapon. He was convicted on the lesser charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm, which could bring a three-year sentence in the shooting death of the 32-year-old Steinle. Federal authorities are trying to deport Garcia Zarate: he had been deported five times before Steinle’s death on a pier in San Francisco. He had seven prior felony convictions.

Following six days of deliberation, reaction to the decision was swift. President Donald Trump called the verdict "disgraceful," while Attorney General Jeff Sessions said San Francisco's status as a sanctuary city was largely to blame for for Steinle’s killing. Officials had released Garcia Zarate before the killing instead of turning him over to federal immigration authorities. Trump tweeted, "A disgraceful verdict in the Kate Steinle case! No wonder the people of our Country are so angry with Illegal Immigration."

Soon after the incident in 2015, Trump said, "This senseless and totally preventable act of violence committed by an illegal immigrant is yet another example of why we must secure our border immediately." Trump added, "This is an absolutely disgraceful situation and I am the only one that can fix it. Nobody else has the guts to even talk about it. That won't happen if I become President."

In a statement, Sessions said, "I urge the leaders of the nation's communities to reflect on the outcome of this case and consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to cooperate with federal law enforcement officers." Sessions continued, stating, "When jurisdictions choose to return criminal aliens to the streets rather than turning them over to federal immigration authorities, they put the public's safety at risk." “I urge the leaders of the nation’s communities to reflect on the outcome of this case and consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to cooperate with federal law enforcement officers,” said Sessions.

Sanctuary cities in the White House sights

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway promoted the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act in an interview on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends.” The law would forbid certain federal grants to sanctuary jurisdictions. "The No Sanctuary for Criminals Act, basically tells our major sanctuary cities you're not getting federal funding. You apply for DHS and DOH grants," Conway said. "And you know what you need to do as a threshold? Obey the law, already, and if you flout the law you're not getting money. This strikes many Americans as common sense. It's an outrageous verdict. We will not stop until...justice is served and until, until there is legislation on the books, federally that not just prevents this in the future, but also makes clear to these cities you better stop," she continued.

The House passed the measure, along with “Kate's Law” -- a measure named for Steinle. The legislation would increase maximum prison penalties for immigrants caught repeatedly entering the United States illegally. The measure was introduced in the Senate but failed to get the 60 votes needed to pass. Commentator and author Ann Coulter tweeted "would still be alive if we had a wall," referring to Trump repeated call for the construction of a border barrier between the U.S. and Mexico.

San Francisco public defender Francisco Ugarte, who was of counsel to Garcia Zarate, claimed that his client’s case was used to stir of ethnic hatred: "From day one, this case was used as a means to foment hate, to foment division and to foment a program of mass deportation." Ugarte said, "Nothing about Mr. Garcia Zarate's ethnicity, nothing about his immigration status, nothing about the fact that he is born in Mexico had any relevance as to what happened on July 1, 2015."

Assistant District Attorney Alex Bastian said prosecutors were disappointed in the verdict. “I can't stress this enough, this really is about the Steinle family. They've shown incredible resolve in this whole process," he said. "Our hearts go out to them."

After the verdict was announced, Jim Steinle -- Kate’s father -- told the San Francisco Chronicle that he was "saddened and shocked." He said, “There's no other way you can coin it. Justice was rendered, but it was not served."

Deputy Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Thomas Homan also criticized San Francisco's sanctuary city policy. "San Francisco's policy of refusing to honor ICE detainers is a blatant threat to public safety and undermines the rule of law," he said in a statement. "This tragedy could have been prevented if San Francisco had simply turned the alien over to ICE, as we requested, instead of releasing him back onto the streets. ... Following the conclusion of this case, ICE will work to take custody of Mr. Garcia Zarate and ultimately remove him from the country."

The shooting

In July 2015, the 32-year-old Steinle, her father, and a friend were at a San Francisco pier when a bullet struck her lower back and tore through her abdominal aorta. Surveillance video showed Garcia Zarate running from the scene. When arrested, Garcia Zarate was found to have residue left by the discharge of a firearm on his right hand, prosecutor Diana Garcia told jurors.

Defense attorney Matt Gonzalez said Garcia Zarate discovered the pistol at the pier, wrapped in cloth. When he unwrapped it, he claimed, the gun accidentally discharged. However, Garcia Zarate admitted that he fired the gun, claiming that he was aiming a seal. He also claimed that he had stepped on the gun, discharging it. He flung the pistol into San Francisco Bay and then fled. Garcia Zarate has used several aliases, including Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez.

Attorney warns Trump and Sessions

Attorney Matt Gonzalez, who defended Garcia Zarate in court, warned after the verdict was read that President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions: “They are under investigation themselves.” Gonzalez stated: “For those who might criticize this verdict, there are a number of people that have commented on this case in the last couple years, the Attorney General of the United States, the President and Vice President of the United States. Let me just remind them that they are themselves under investigation by a special prosecutor in Washington, DC and they may themselves soon avail themselves of the presumption of innocence and beyond a reasonable doubt standard. And so I would ask them to reflect on that before they comment or disparaged the result in this case.”

Gonzalez may have been referring to the ongoing investigations into supposed Russian interference in the 2016 election.

White House statement

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a statement on the Kate Steinle case:

"Yesterday’s verdict in San Francisco underscores the danger to public safety when our Nation fails to enforce its laws.  Kate Steinle was killed by an illegal immigrant and convicted felon who had been deported from the United States five times.  He, and countless other criminal illegal immigrants like him, should never be allowed to threaten our citizens.

"It’s more important now than ever for Congress to secure our borders and provide the resources, including more ICE officers, needed to deport criminal illegal aliens and to finally stop sanctuary city policies that cause needless loss of innocent life.  Politicians who fail to address these needs share responsibility for preventable crimes committed against innocent Americans.
 
"Had San Francisco enforced our Nation’s immigration laws, the Steinle family would be celebrating this holiday with all of their loved ones."



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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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