Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, also known as Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez © Michael Macor / Reuters
Jurors in the trial of an illegal immigrant charged with the 2015 murder of a 32-year-old San Francisco woman were told to ignore both immigration and gun control. The suspect had been deported from the US five times, but kept returning to the “sanctuary city.”
Opening statements in the trial of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate began Monday at the Superior Court of California in San Francisco. Zarate, 54, is accused of killing Katherine “Kate” Steinle as she sat with her father on San Francisco’s Pier 14 in July 2015.
Zarate, who has also gone by the names Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez and Juan Jose Dominguez de la Parr, had been deported from the United States five times. He also had several prior criminal convictions, including four felonies for possession of heroin and manufacturing narcotics.
He was released from a San Francisco jail for re-entering the US illegally only two and a half months before the shooting. After his release, Zarate was not deported because San Francisco refuses to turn over illegal immigrants to federal authorities, under the so-called “sanctuary” policies. Zarate said that he returned to the US seeking employment, and came to San Francisco because of the protections the city offers to illegal immigrants.
The case became a flashpoint in the debate about illegal immigration and “sanctuary cities,” an issue emphasized by President Donald Trump during his 2016 election campaign.
However, during jury selection, Judge Samuel Feng told prospective jurors that their political views should not enter into their deliberations. The jury has also been barred from bringing up the politics of immigration and gun control during the proceedings.
The jury, which induces three immigrants, has been instructed to consider only one question in the case: whether Zarate shot Steinle intentionally, or was it an accident?
Zarate has pleaded not guilty to the charges, claiming that the shooting was not intentional. His attorney, Matt Gonzalez, called the shooting a “freak accident,” claiming his client was 90 feet away and the bullet bounced off the pavement before hitting Steinle.
After the shooting, Zarate had told reporters he had found the gun wrapped in a T-shirt near the beach. When he picked it up, the gun accidentally fired three times, Zarate said in an interview with KGO-TV. He then threw the gun into the San Francisco Bay and walked off, not knowing he had shot anyone until he was arrested hours later.
However, Zarate also said that he had taken sleeping pills before the shooting, and that his memory of the events is not clear.
The handgun was issued to a Bureau of Land Management ranger who had reported it stolen from his parked car in San Francisco a week before the shooting occurred. Gonzalez contends that the .40-caliber SIG Sauer P226 was left in hair-trigger mode and had no safety device.
Prosecutors contend that the gun was in a position that would have required a conscious, deliberate action in order to pull the trigger. They also contend that Zarate pointed the gun at people on the pier.
“This was an act of random violence,” Assistant DA Diana Garcia said in 2015, according to CNN. “And the defendant claimed to have found this gun shortly before just firing it at somebody at close range, shooting an innocent victim in the back.”
The San Francisco district attorney’s office has charged Zarate with second-degree murder, which could carry a maximum sentence of 15 years to life. His trial is expected to take between six and eight weeks.
In June, Republicans introduced Kate’s Law, a bill that would impose mandatory minimum sentences on illegal immigrants who returned to the United States after previously being deported. The was adopted in the House of Representatives. Trump has called on lawmakers in the Senate to send the bill to his desk for signature.