Jose Ines Garcia Zarate [in regulation uniform], is led into the courtroom in 2015, for his arraignment.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a Mexico national, was acquitted of murder charges on Thursday in the 2015 shooting death of Kate Steinle. Garcia Zarate was found guilty of possessing a firearm and faces up to three years behind bars, and is also facing deportation after having already been booted from the U.S. five times.
Kate Steinle was fatally shot in 2015 in the commission of a robbery, by Garcia Zarate, a Mexican immigrant who had been deported five times from the United States,
The acquittal on the counts of murder and manslaughter has created considerable backlash from a disappointed public. Many pundits and public figures, including President Trump weighed in to express their dissatisfaction with the career criminal basically escaping with a slap on the wrist after committing ‘felony murder’.
An alternate juror in the Kate Steinle murder trial surprised by public backlash at its conclusion is attempting to explain “why the jury was right to make the decision that it did.”
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a Mexican immigrant who had been deported five times from the United States, earlier this month was cleared on first and second-degree murder charges as well as a count of manslaughter in the death of 32-year-old Steinle, who was fatally shot while walking with her father on a pier July 1, 2015.
Kate Steinle was shot to death on July 1, 2015 by Garcia Zarate, an undocumented immigrant, on a San Francisco Pier
The fatal incident sparked an intense debate on national immigration at the time, with President Trump citing the shooting for stricter policy during his campaign for the White House.
Trump later called the verdict in the case “disgraceful,” while scores of others — including Donald Trump Jr. and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, offered criticisms of their own.
In an essay for Politico, alternate juror Phil Van Stockum — who did not get a vote and is not a lawyer — strived to explain the case’s outcome to those who reacted with “surprise, confusion and derision.”
President Trump called the verdict ‘disgraceful’
He also noted that jurors were informed Garcia Zarate had no record nor apparent motive in the shooting.
“After having heard the evidence, I agreed with the defense’s opinion that murder charges shouldn’t have been brought,” Van Stockum wrote in the Politico piece. “The evidence didn’t show that Garcia Zarate intended to kill anyone.”
The defense had argued that Zarate, who was homeless, found the weapon and his shooting Steinle was accidental.
Kate Steinle’s parents – Jim Steinle, [center], and Liz Sullivan, [right], arrive in court for closing arguments on Nov 30 “We’re just shocked — saddened and shocked. That’s about it,” Jim Steinle said. “There’s no other way you can coin it. Justice was rendered, but it was not served.”
Defended his office’s handling of the case, San Francisco DA, George Gascon, said: “we felt, and we still do, that we had evidence of a murder case.”
However, emphasizing that evidence in the case indicated Steinle was shot by mistake, Van Stockum notes that the weapon used was a Sauer P239 pistol, a backup emergency weapon used by law enforcement, which has “a light trigger mode and no safety.” Adding that jurors requested to handle the weapon during deliberations, but the judge turned them down.
Memorial for Kate Steinle on a pier in San Francisco where she was shot while walking with her father.
He also pointed out the shot fired while Garcia Zarate was seated in a chair “hit the ground 12 feet in front of him before ricocheting a further 78 feet to hit Steinle.”
The facts, he said, provide for a “reasonable interpretation” which “favors the defendant: He found the gun at the seat, picked it up out of curiosity and accidentally caused it to fire” before dumping it in the water out of fear. He said jurors were forced to favor this interpretation due to “the presumption of innocence, as stated in the jury instructions.”
Van Stockum also acknowledged much of the public’s confusion however, stemmed from Garcia Zarate’s acquittal on the manslaughter charge.
“It does seem to me personally that manslaughter is the appropriate charge for Steinle’s killing,” he wrote. “However given the evidence and the law presented in this trial, it is clear to me that the jury made the right decision.”
He said manslaughter was defined for the jury as having two key elements: “1) A crime was committed in the act that caused the death; (2) The defendant acted with ‘criminal negligence.’”
He points out that jurors were unable to select the crime referenced in the first key point. Rather than consider his illegally possessing a firearm, as the crime, prosecutors instead designated it to be “brandishing” a firearm.
“No witnesses ever saw the defendant holding a gun, much less brandishing it,” Van Stockum wrote. “Given that baffling choice by the prosecution, the manslaughter charge was a nonstarter for the jury.”
Incidentally, the jurors ultimately convicted Zarate of illegally possessing a firearm.
Court room scene during closing at the Kate Steinle murder trial
On Tuesday, federal prosecutors announced that the door was not closed on the case as the acquitted Mexican national faces new federal charges.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was indicted by a grand jury for being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition, and for being an illegally present alien in possession of a firearm, the Department of Justice said.
While Garcia Zarate was acquitted Thursday of more serious charges including murder, involuntary manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon for the July 1, 2015, shooting, he was found guilty of a state gun charge.
The state conviction carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail, while each new federal charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.