A homeless man whose undocumented immigration status intensified a national debate over sanctuary laws was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges Thursday in the shooting of Kate Steinle as she strolled with her father on San Francisco’s Pier 14 in 2015, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. In returning its verdict on the sixth day of deliberations, the jury found Jose Ines Garcia Zarate not guilty of assault with a firearm, apparently agreeing with the defense argument that the shot that ricocheted off the concrete ground was an accident, with the gun discharging after the defendant stumbled upon it on the waterfront. The panel convicted Garcia Zarate, 45, of a lesser charge of being a felon in possession of a gun, which carries possible sentences of up to three years in prison. He already has served over two years in jail and gets credit for that time.
Garcia Zarate is a Mexican citizen who was released from San Francisco jail before the killing despite a federal request that he be held for his sixth deportation. The outcome infuriated opponents of the San Francisco sanctuary policies that allowed Garcia Zarate’s release. President Trump tweeted that the result was a “complete travesty of justice,” and in a statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions urged “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.” Republican U.S. senators have reintroduced “Kate’s Law,” which would create a five-year minimum sentence for immigrants who illegally re-enter the United States. Prosecutors told the jury that Garcia Zarate intentionally brought the gun to the pier with the intent of doing harm, aimed the gun toward Steinle and pulled the trigger. Defense lawyers said the shooting was an accident.