There’s a big elephant in the courtroom as the trial gets underway in San Francisco for the man accused of killing Kate Steinle. But nobody can talk about it in court.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate is an undocumented immigrant who had been deported five times before he came back to San Francisco, where he was freed from a prison stint under the city’s “sanctuary” policies.
And then he admitted to shooting Steinle as she strolled a waterfront pier with her father.
The July 2015 killing prompted then-presidential candidate Donald Trump to call for a border wall. And then-Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly demanded Kate’s Law be passed to give harsher punishments to deported people who sneak back into the United States. The case caused a furor over sanctuary city policies. The San Francisco sheriff was voted out of office over the incident and for his bizarre statement that the city’s sanctuary policies made the city “safer.”
But none of that is up for discussion during the Steinle trial.
Jurors and lawyers are supposed to keep the immigration issue and Trump out of the trial, according to the San Francisco Chronicle:
During two weeks of jury selection, Judge Samuel Feng repeatedly told prospective jurors that immigration, sanctuary cities, gun control and their political views should not enter into their deliberations.
Lawyers on both sides conveyed much the same message but tried to put their own spin on the Trump connection. Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia asked whether any jurors were so angry at Trump that they would be unable to convict Garcia Zarate, while Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney in the public defender’s office, asked whether they could return a verdict that the president would dislike.
The Chronicle reported that the only thing jurors will decide initially is if Garcia Zarate shot Steinle on purpose or, as his public defender Matt Gonzalez said, it was a “freak accident."
The defense in the trial of Jose Garcia Zarate says he will prove gun that killed Kate Steinele was accidentally fired. pic.twitter.com/3uxue5T0vw
— Lyanne Melendez (@LyanneMelendez) October 23, 2017
The Chronicle also reported that since the accused killer has admitted to the shooting, the argument will be over if he took the .40-caliber SIG Sauer P226 and aimed at the woman. The gun was stolen from the car of a U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ranger four days before the fatal shooting.
If it’s determined Garcia Zarate shot Steinle on purpose, he could go to prison for 15 years to life. If it's ruled an accident, he could be set free.
The Steinle family is considering a lawsuit against the BLM for the ranger’s carelessness with his gun. The family attempted to sue the sheriff who released the shooter from prison, but it was found that he was just following a city ordinance “barring cooperation with immigration officers.”
The criminal trial is expected to last until December.