01:42 - Source: CNN
Jury finds Zarate not guilty of Steinle murder

Story highlights

Kate Steinle's brother says the system failed her several times

"Why would the verdict be any different?" Brad Steinle asks

San Francisco CNN  — 

A Mexican man will be deported after he was found not guilty in the killing of Kate Steinle, whose death while out walking on a San Francisco pier reignited a national debate over immigration policy.

Jurors acquitted Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, 45, of murder and involuntary manslaughter, as well as assault with a deadly weapon. They convicted him of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The undocumented immigrant faces up to three years in prison, but has already spent more than two years in jail awaiting trial and may get credit for time served. He has not been sentenced.

Before Steinle’s fatal shooting in July 2015, Garcia Zarate was deported five times, and was wanted for a sixth deportation on drug-related felonies.

Under a sanctuary city law, San Francisco authorities released him from custody three months before the shooting, instead of turning him over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

‘I’m not surprised’

Authorities said the gun Garcia Zarate used was stolen from the car of an off-duty agent for the Bureau of Land Management.

Kate Steinle’s brother said the theft of the gun set off a series of system failures that culminated with the ruling.

“I’m not surprised. The system failed Kate from the start of this chain of events. Why would the verdict be any different?” Brad Steinle said. “From the drug charge. To being released. To not being detained by ICE. The BLM agent leaving a loaded weapon in an unlocked car. It is failure after failure.”

Steinle said the verdict does not affect them in any way.

“Kate is gone. The strength we have is drawn from Kate. Her memory is with us,” he said.

Debate over sanctuary city

A jury on Thursday found an undocumented immigrant not guilty in the July 2015 death of Kate Steinle, a decision that reignited the debate over immigration policy.

A sanctuary city has policies designed to limit its cooperation with federal officials on immigration enforcement.

“San Francisco’s policy of refusing to honor ICE detainers is a blatant threat to public safety and undermines the rule of law,” Tom Homan, deputy director of ICE, said in a statement.

Homan said ICE plans to take custody of Garcia Zarate and “ultimately remove him from the country.” It’s unclear whether it’ll be before or after he serves his sentence.

Trump called the verdict “disgraceful,” while Attorney General Jeff Sessions said San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city was largely to blame for what happened.

Kate Steinle, 32, was killed in July 2015.

“A disgraceful verdict in the Kate Steinle case! No wonder the people of our Country are so angry with Illegal Immigration,” the President tweeted.

“I urge the leaders of the nation’s communities to reflect on the outcome of this case and consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to cooperate with federal law enforcement officers,” Sessions said in a statement.

“When jurisdictions choose to return criminal aliens to the streets rather than turning them over to federal immigration authorities, they put the public’s safety at risk,” he said in a statement.

But one of the defendant’s lawyers said the debate over immigration didn’t belong in the case.

“From day one, this case was used as a means to foment hate, to foment division and to foment a program of mass deportation,” public defender Francisco Ugarte said.

“Nothing about Mr. Garcia Zarate’s ethnicity, nothing about his immigration status, nothing about the fact that he is born in Mexico had any relevance as to what happened on July 1, 2015,” the defense attorney said.

Assistant District Attorney Alex Bastian said prosecutors were disappointed in the verdict but respected the jury’s decision.

“I can’t stress this enough, this really is about the Steinle family. They’ve shown incredible resolve in this whole process,” he said. “Our hearts go out to them.”

Surveillance video showed Garcia Zarate running away. After his arrest, investigators found gunshot residue on his right hand, prosecutor Diana Garcia told jurors.

Prosecutors said Garcia Zarate deliberately fired into an unsuspecting crowd on the pier, killing Steinle as she walked with her father.

The case

But the defense attorney said the shooting was accidental, and the bullet ricocheted off the ground and traveled about 80 feet before hitting Steinle.

Garcia Zarate faced a charge of second-degree murder, but jurors were allowed to consider first-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter convictions.

The jury deliberated for six days before issuing its decision.

Differing accounts

Defense attorney Matt Gonzalez said Garcia Zarate found the gun at the pier. He said it was wrapped in cloth, and when he unwrapped it, it accidentally discharged.

But in a police interrogation, Garcia Zarate admitted to firing the gun, saying he was aiming at a seal.

Juors began deliberating Tuesday in the murder trial of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate.

He told police that he stepped on the gun, causing it to fire.

Garcia Zarate was formerly known as Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, one of several aliases he is known to have used. CNN and other media outlets previously identified him as Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez.

Sanctuary cities and ‘Kate’s Law’

Steinle’s death stirred an already heated debate over immigration. Before the shooting, officials in San Francisco had released Garcia Zarate from custody instead of turning him over to immigration authorities.

Freya Horne, chief legal counsel to the San Francisco County Sheriff, said in a 2015 interview that Garcia Zarate was let go because there was no legal cause to detain the suspect.

Steinle’s family filed a lawsuit in 2016 alleging that San Francisco and its former sheriff were partly to blame for Steinle’s death, because officials never notified Immigration and Customs Enforcement when Garcia Zarate was released from a local jail in April 2015. City officials have said they’re not liable for a former inmate’s actions. A federal judge dismissed the family’s claims against San Francisco and former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi earlier this year.

City officials have said they’re not liable for a former inmate’s actions. A federal judge dismissed the family’s claims.

The Justice Department is considering bringing federal charges against him, according to DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Flores.

The sheriff’s department said there is a federal criminal warrant that was signed by a US district judge in 2015 for Garcia Zarate. Once he is eligible to be released, the US Marshals will be notified, authorities said.

Documents unsealed Friday show the warrant was issued in July 2015 after Steinle was killed. An amendment filed Friday adds other violations, including conviction for being a felon with a firearm.

Dan Simon reported from San Francisco, and Faith Karimi reported and wrote in Atlanta. CNN’s Holly Yan, Eric Levenson, Nicole Chavez, Cheri Mossburg, Darran Simon, Phil Gast, Rosalina Nieves, Sarah Moon and Braden Walker contributed to this report.