The San Francisco murder case that ignited a national debate over immigration policy went to trial Monday with attorneys sparring not over politics but the case’s central legal question: whether the killer of Kate Steinle on Pier 14 intended to fire in her direction or accidentally shot a gun he said he found under a bench, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. A prosecutor said in her opening statement that Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, 45, brought the stolen pistol to the waterfront location, pointed it toward Steinle and pulled the trigger on July 1, 2015. The public defender representing the Mexican citizen said he found the gun in a T-shirt on the pier moments before the shooting, and that after he unwrapped the bundle the gun discharged a bullet that ricocheted off the concrete and struck Steinle in the back.
The trial in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng opened to broad interest fueled by the political firestorm that followed it. Garcia Zarate, who was homeless and had a record of drug crimes, was wanted for deportation by federal agents when his San Francisco jailers set him free 2½ months before the shooting under the city’s sanctuary laws. The job of the jury is to put aside those politics. It is Garcia Zarate’s intentions on the day he killed Steinle that could mean the difference between a conviction for second-degree murder or manslaughter, or an acquittal. Prosecutor Diana Garcia said the defendant was guilty of murder because he either aimed a loaded gun at Steinle directly or at a crowd of people — an act that implies malice, or an intent to kill.