A bullet that struck Kate Steinle on San Francisco’s Pier 14 ricocheted off the ground first but appeared to have traveled in a straight line from where the man charged in her death was sitting to where she stood, a prosecution witness testified Monday.
However retired police Inspector Jim Evans also said he could not be certain where either the defendant, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, or Steinle were located at the time of the July 1, 2015 shooting, making it impossible to conduct an exact trajectory analysis.
Evans, a former crime scene investigator, today testified in the trial of Garcia Zarate, a 45-year-old Mexican citizen who is charged with second-degree murder in Steinle’s death.
Evans said crime scene investigators initially found no shell casings or bullet strike marks at the pier. However, they went back to the scene several days after the shooting for another look after an examination of the bullet showed that it had struck something hard before it hit Steinle.
They then located a strike mark in the concrete surface of the pier located around 12 to 15 feet away from where Garcia Zarate was thought to have been sitting, putting it around 72 feet from Steinle. Evans said that testing at the scene indicated there was an unobstructed straight line between Garcia Zarate, the strike mark and Steinle.
Based on the evidence, Evans said his conclusion was “that a human being held a firearm, pointed it in the direction of Ms. Steinle and pulled the trigger, firing the weapon and killing the victim.” “That is the only way this could have occurred that is reasonable,” Evans said. He stated that ricochets or “skip shots” can occur when shooters are rushed or when they jerk the trigger because they are poorly trained, causing the gun to point downward.
Defense attorneys have said that Garcia Zarate was holding the gun when it fired, but argue that it was an accidental discharge. They have said he found the gun under his seat on the pier, wrapped in a t-shirt or cloth, and did not know what it was when he picked it up.
In court today, Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney for the public defender’s office, pressed Evans to acknowledge the lack of certainty in his conclusions.
Under cross-examination, Evans acknowledged that he did not know the exact locations of either Garcia Zarate or Steinle and could not do a full trajectory analysis without that information. He ultimately acknowledged, under cross-examination, that he could not say if the shooting was accidental or not.
“I don’t know what’s in anyone’s mind,” Evans said.
Outside of court Gonzalez said the prosecution is “struggling to make sense” of evidence showing a ricochet from a long distance, and questioned Evans’ ability to draw any conclusions about the bullet’s trajectory.
“I think when you hear from our experts they’re going to tell you that bullet hit the concrete and it’s not traveling straight anymore,” Gonzalez said.
Prosecutor Diana Garcia today also presented a witness who was walking near the pier at the time of the shooting.
The witness, Lisa Strick, testified that she saw an object falling into the water off the pier and a man running off after the shot was fired, but did not hear anyone scream. She reported the incident to police later after hearing sirens in the area.
The trial is expected to continue Tuesday.