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01 December 2017, 06:25 | Marta Robbins
Undocumented immigrant acquitted of Kathryn Steinle's murder
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, arrested in connection with the July 1, 2015, shooting of Kate Steinle on a pier in San Francisco is led into the Hall of Justice for his arraignment in San Francisco, California, U.S. on July 7, 2015.
Zarate's defense lawyer, Francisco Ugarte, remarked that the death of Steinle was an "incomprehensible tragedy" but also commented that the ruling was a vindication for immigrants.
The jury of six women and six men acquitted the 45-year-old Garcia Zarate of murder in the first and second degrees, and the alternate charge of involuntary manslaughter. The fact that San Francisco Sheriff's Department, months before the shooting, had refused to tell federal immigration officials when undocumented Garcia Zarate was to be released from jail made it a touchstone in the national debate on sanctuary cities.
In September, a federal judge in Chicago ruled the U.S. Justice Department can't withhold millions of dollars in grants supporting public safety from cities that refuse to share with federal officials the immigration status of suspects in custody.
Despite the national political implications, the San Francisco jury was charged with a more discreet task of criminal culpability for Steinle's death.
"Countless innocent American lives have been stolen because our politicians have failed in their duty to secure our borders and enforce our laws like they have to be enforced", Trump said during a August 2016 campaign speech in Phoenix, Arizona. The defense argued that the shooting was unintentional, that the defendant found the gun wrapped in a cloth under his seat at the pier and that it accidentally discharged. Steinle, a medical equipment saleswoman, was out for a July afternoon walk with her dad on San Francisco's Pier 14 when she was struck in the back by a single bullet.
"I'm relieved", Public Defender Jeff Adachi said after the verdict reading, adding that evidence in the case played a big role in the not-guilty verdict.
Garcia Zarate did not deny shooting Steinle and said it was an accident.
Assistant District Attorney Alex Bastian said prosecutors were disappointed in the verdict but respected the jury's decision.
Prosecutors said Garcia Zarate immediately tried to cover his tracks by throwing the gun into the San Francisco Bay, then fleeing the scene. The city has been plagued by an epidemic of vehicle burglaries in recent years.
Zarate, a convicted felon who has been deported from the USA five times, was accused of fatally shooting the 32-year-old Steinle in July 2015 while she was walking with her father and a friend in San Francisco.
The sheriff's department released him a few days later after the district attorney dropped the marijuana charge, despite a US request to detain him for deportation.
A photo of murder victim Kate Steinle, right, is placed on an easel as her father Jim Steinle (second from left) prepares to testify about her murder during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on USA immigration enforcement policies, on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 21, 2015.
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