A confession made to police by the defendant in the fatal shooting of Kathryn Steinle will be admitted into evidence, but jurors will not be allowed to hear another statement he made to a TV news station in which he describes the shooting as an accident, a San Francisco judge ruled Monday.
Defense attorneys for Jose Ines Garcia-Zarate expressed disappointment in the ruling but said it will not prevent them from presenting evidence in court that the July 1, 2015 shooting occurred when the gun went off accidentally.
Garcia-Zarate, 54, who is on trial for murder in Steinle’s death at Pier 14, admitted to shooting the 32-year-old Pleasanton native to police during an interview shortly after his arrest.
However, defense attorneys and prosecutors had wrangled over which parts of the statement should be admitted, with defense attorneys arguing that police failed to properly advise Garcia-Zarate of his rights by mistranslating the “Miranda” warning usually read to defendants before questioning.
Garcia-Zarate speaks Spanish, and it was not always clear in the police interview whether he understood the questions he was asked or whether he was able to respond clearly.
Police also ignored Garcia-Zarate’s repeated attempts to invoke his right to silence and ultimately used aggressive interrogation tactics to coerce a 5 a.m. confession from an exhausted defendant, defense attorneys argued.
However Assistant District Attorney Allison Macbeth said that while Garcia-Zarate repeatedly said he did not want to answer questions, he then demanded to be allowed to sign a confession, made other contradictory statements and continued talking to officers.
“The defendant’s confession was voluntary. … Loud and aggressive techniques in themselves were not sufficient to render it involuntary.”
Judge Samuel Feng allowed the entire statement to police to be admitted but excluded a statement made by Garcia-Zarate to an ABC7 reporter in an on-camera interview just days after the shooting.
In that statement Garcia-Zarate also admits to shooting Steinle but describes the shooting as an accident, saying he found the gun and it went off when he picked it up.
Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney for the public defender’s office, said the statement Garcia-Zarate ultimately made to police was full of factual inaccuracies. He told police he shot Steinle from 5 feet away when it was actually 90 feet, and said he walked past her as she lay injured on the ground when evidence shows that was not the case, Gonzalez said.
The statement to ABC7, which was not made under duress, would have helped to illustrate those issues, but its exclusion will not prevent the defense from making its case that the shooting was accidental, Gonzalez said.
Physical evidence from the scene shows that the bullet that struck Steinle ricocheted off the ground more than 75 feet away from her.
“We just can’t get around the fact that he fired the gun pointed at the ground and basically missed her from 78 feet. … It ricocheted off the ground and hit her in the lower back. But for this freak accident that no firearms expert could repeat we wouldn’t be here.”
Steinle’s shooting created a national controversy after it was revealed that Garcia-Zarate, an undocumented immigrant, had been released from San Francisco county jails months before the shooting after a marijuana charge was dismissed despite a civil detainer request by immigration authorities.
Under its longstanding Sanctuary City policies and in accordance with legal precedents, San Francisco does not honor most such requests unless they come in the form of a criminal arrest warrant.
The gun in the shooting was also found to have been stolen from a Bureau of Land Management agent’s car in San Francisco, prompting state legislation requiring law enforcement to secure weapons stored in vehicles.
Garcia-Zarate has not been linked to the vehicle burglary by prosecutors or police.