- Najja Parker, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A controversial verdict has cast a fresh spotlight on immigration after a San Francisco jury found an undocumented immigrant not guilty in the 2015 shooting death of Kathryn Steinle.
On Thursday, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a 54-year-old Mexican immigrant, was acquitted on first-degree, second-degree and involuntary manslaughter charges. He was only found guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The decision, which President Donald Trump called “disgraceful,” has reignited the debate over immigration as people chime in about the case. First time hearing about it? Here’s what you should know,
Steinle was shot while walking with her father and a family friend on a San Francisco pier popular with tourists. Garcia Zarate said he was sitting on the pier when he found a gun under a chair. He said the gun was wrapped in a T-shirt and accidentally fired when he picked it up.
Before the shooting, Garcia Zarate had finished a federal prison sentence for illegal re-entry into the United States and had been transferred to San Francisco's jail in March 2015 to face a 20-year-old charge for selling marijuana. The sheriff's department released him a few days after prosecutors dropped the marijuana charge, despite a request from federal immigration officials to detain him for deportation.
What is Garcia Zarate’s history?
Garcia Zarate arrived in the United States around 1991, the same year he was convicted of his first charge in Arizona. Since 1993, he has been convicted of at least five drug charges and has served at least five years in U.S. federal prison. He’s been deported five times since 1994, with the most recent one occurring in 2009, and was wanted for a sixth deportation when Steinle was fatally shot in the back.
How has the family responded?
Steinle’s father, Jim Steinle, said he was shocked when the jury acquitted Garcia Zarate. He told the San Francisco Chronicle the family was saddened and shocked by Thursday's verdict. He said, "justice was rendered but not served." The Steinle family did not attend court to hear the verdict. They spoke to the Chronicle in an exclusive interview that they said would be their last public comments. Her father said the family has felt frustration and sadness but not anger or vindictiveness since the killing. Even if Garcia Zarate had received a sentence of 100 years, the father said, "It doesn't solve anything, it doesn't help anything."
What does President Trump think?
He called the verdict "disgraceful" on Thursday. And in Friday's social media messaging, Trump said that "the Kate Steinle killer came back and back over the weakly protected Obama border, always committing crimes and being violent, and yet this info was not used in court." "His exoneration is a complete travesty of justice. BUILD THE WALL," Trump tweeted.
How has the case influence immigration laws?
The House passed two bills regarding public safety and national security over the summer. Kate's Law, which was named after Steinle, would impose harsher prison sentences on deportees who re-enter the United States. While it passed the House, it did not advance in the Senate.
The second bill, No Sanctuary for Criminal Acts, would bar states and localities that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities from receiving certain Justice Department and Homeland Security grants, including some related to law enforcement and terrorism. It’s currently pending in the Senate.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.