NEW: Jose Ines Garcia Zarate pleads not guilty to federal gun charges
His attorney filed motion to drop either of the two federal charges against him
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an undocumented immigrant, was acquitted in the death of Kate Steinle last year, but he now has to face federal charges.
Garcia Zarate was back in court Tuesday on federal criminal charges in connection with the Steinle case: one count of a felon in possession of firearm and one count of an immigrant illegally in the United States, in possession of a firearm.
He pleaded not guilty to both allegations.
His defense attorneys filed a motion last week seeking to dismiss either of those federal charges, with the attorneys saying that “the multiplicity of counts is incurably prejudicial.”
They stated in a motion that the conduct in each of the two charges is the same with the difference being that one says he’s an undocumented immigrant and the other says he’s a felon.
“In this case, Mr. Garcia-Zarate would incur incurable prejudice if both counts were allowed to stand. The prejudice against illegal aliens from Mexico is at an all-time high in the country; specifically, that prejudice is rooted in the premise that ‘they’ are all dangerous criminals,” wrote defense attorneys J. Tony Serra and Maria Belyi.
“Charging Mr. Garcia-Zarate as both an illegal alien and a felon will so taint the jury as to take away from the key question at issue: did Mr. Garcia-Zarate possess a weapon?” they wrote.
Garcia Zarate was acquitted of murder, involuntary manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon by a jury in a state case in November. But five days later, he was indicted on the two federal gun charges in connection to Steinle’s death.
Both the federal and state cases stem back to July 2015 when Steinle, 32, was walking on a San Francisco pier with her father when she was shot and killed. Garcia Zarate’s defense attorney claimed the shooting was accidental and the bullet ricocheted off the ground and traveled about 80 feet before hitting Steinle.
His subsequent acquittal in the state trial prompted a firestorm of criticism from President Donald Trump and conservatives toward San Francisco, a so-called sanctuary city. Garcia Zarate is a Mexican citizen who previously had been deported five times.
While acquitted of the more serious charges, he was convicted in the state trial of being a felon in possession of a firearm. This carried a three-year sentence, of which he had enough credit for served time to cover his sentence.
CNN’s Dakin Andonek, Rosalina Nieves, Augie Martin and Dan Simon contributed to this report.