The man who was acquitted of murder charges in the fatal shooting of San Francisco resident Kate Steinle was sentenced to three years in state prison Friday on a single count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, 45, was convicted of the firearms possession charge on Nov. 30 following a four-week trial.
Jurors acquitted him of murder and assault with a deadly weapon in Steinle’s July 1, 2015 death on Pier 14 after defense attorneys argued that the shooting, in which the bullet ricocheted off the pier before it struck Steinle, had been an accident.
Garcia Zarate will not serve any additional time, however, because he has already served longer than three years in city jail while awaiting trial.
Instead, he will be transferred to federal custody, where federal prosecutors in December filed new charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition and being an illegally present alien in possession of a firearm and ammunition.
Garcia Zarate’s case has been highly politicized due to his status as an undocumented immigrant.
While it played little role in the prosecution of the case, it fed into a national controversy over San Francisco’s Sanctuary City policies, which limit cooperation and communication between local law enforcement and immigration authorities.
Garcia Zarate, who has prior criminal convictions for drug charges and returning to the country after deportation, had been released from San Francisco jail several months before the shooting without any notification to federal authorities due to those policies.
Following the verdict, President Donald Trump tweeted several times about it, calling the decision “disgraceful” and using it as a pretext to reiterate his calls to build a wall between the United States and Mexico.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a statement placing the blame for Steinle’s death on San Francisco’s Sanctuary City policies, saying “they put the public’s safety at risk.” Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney for the public defender’s office and one of Garcia Zarate’s attorneys, said it was highly unusual for federal prosecutors to file weapons charges out of a state case where the defendant has no prior offenses involving weapons and no gang affiliations.
“That has all the makings of a vindictive prosecution,” Gonzalez said. “They didn’t like the outcome so they’re going to come after him again.” Garcia Zarate will be represented in his federal case by Tony Serra, who today said he planned to immediately file motions to dismiss the federal charges on grounds including retaliatory, vindictive prosecution and possible double jeopardy. He said he expects Garcia Zarate to be arraigned in federal court on Monday or Tuesday.
Serra said he expects his defense to touch on the politics of the case, including Trump and Sessions’ remarks, and to demonstrate to jurors that the case is being appealed and has a meaningful chance of being reversed.
“I do believe that federal jurors will see that this is vindictive,” Serra said. “This is a case that ultimately can be summed up as a vote for guilt in the federal case is a vote for Trump.” Gonzalez today said they plan to file an appeal of the weapons convictions after Judge Samuel Feng rejected a motion for a new trial on that charge. That appeal will proceed independently of the newer federal charges.