Charges are for possession of a firearm
Suspect's lawyers have said he found the gun by chance, it accidentally fired
The undocumented immigrant who fatally shot a young San Francisco woman at a popular tourist spot two years ago has been indicted on two federal charges in connection with the controversial case.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, who was acquitted last week of state murder and involuntary manslaughter charges, was charged Tuesday with one count of a felon in possession of firearm and one count of an immigrant in possession of a firearm.
Garcia Zarate’s acquittal in Kate Steinle’s death prompted a firestorm of criticism from President Donald Trump and conservatives toward San Francisco, a so-called sanctuary city. Garcia Zarate was found guilty on a state charge of being a felon is possession of a firearm and could face up to three years in prison.
Immigration officials have said they want to deport him. Garcia Zarate claimed the shooting was accidental.
He remains in state custody, according to the indictment.
The federal charges were announced through a news release from US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, US Attorney from the Northern District of California Brian Stretch and Jill Snyder, a special agent in charge at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
Garcia Zarate, who is from Mexico and has been deported from the US five times, faces up to 10 years in prison on each count, if convicted.
Defense lawyers for Garcia Zarate said Monday they will appeal the state charge for which he was convicted. They believe the gun possession conviction seemed at odds with the acquittals, given that those verdicts aligned with the defense contention that Garcia Zarate found the gun by happenstance at the pier where the shooting occurred.
In closing arguments, lead attorney Matt Gonzalez argued that momentary possession, especially when you don’t know what you’re possessing, is not a crime.
CNN reached out to Garcia Zarate’s attorneys on Tuesday but didn’t receive an immediate response.
DA takes blame for acquittals
George Gascón, district attorney for the city and county of San Francisco, would not comment on the developments but talked to reporters about the recent trial.
“Last week was not a verdict we were hoping for. We believe this was a homicide,” said at a news conference Tuesday.
Citing ongoing litigation, Gascón refrained from discussing details on the case and took responsibility for any failure to prepare for the case and the concluding not guilty verdict.
“From the day the murder happened, (the) case has been used as a political stunt,” Gascón said.
He continued, “It pains me to watch politicians and candidates use the tragedy of this event for political gain.”
Gascón called out Trump, saying that “we shouldn’t allow a madman that is tweeting dictate everything we do” when talking about the influence politics has had on the Steinle trial.
Before Steinle’s death in July 2015, Garcia Zarate was deported five times; at the time of the shooting he 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.
Prosecutors said Garcia Zarate deliberately fired into an unsuspecting crowd on the pier in July 2015, killing Steinle as she walked with her father. The defense said the weapon went off by accident, 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.
Authorities said the gun Garcia Zarate used was stolen from the car of an off-duty agent for the Bureau of Land Management.
The case sparked a fierce debate over sanctuary cities, and forced San Francisco officials to defend its policy.
Trump called the verdict “disgraceful,” while Sessions said San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city was largely to blame for what happened.
CNN’s Dan Simon and Eric Levenson contributed to this report.