Immigrant cleared of San Francisco killing faces US charges
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A Mexican man acquitted of murder in the shooting death of a San Francisco woman that sparked a national immigration debate was sentenced Friday to time served for illegal gun possession.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng also denied a defense request to grant Jose Ines Garcia Zarate a new trial for his conviction of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Garcia Zarate will now be taken into U.S. custody to face two federal gun possession charges.
The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department said it would hold Garcia Zarate in jail until U.S. marshals pick him up. His lawyer, Tony Serra, said he expects the transfer this weekend.
Serra also said he plans to inject politics as much as he can into his defense of Garcia Zarate in federal court. That would be a marked departure from the state case, in which the judge banned any mention of Garcia Zarate’s immigration status and the nationwide debate around it.
Garcia Zarate had previously been convicted of illegally re-entering the United States and been deported five times before Kate Steinle was fatally shot on a popular pier in July 2015.
The San Francisco sheriff’s department released him from jail several weeks before the shooting, ignoring a federal request to detain him for a sixth deportation. San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” policy bars local officials from helping U.S. immigration authorities in deportation matters unless they have a warrant.
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump pointed to Steinle’s death as a reason to build a wall along the Mexican border and tighten immigration policies. The president also has threatened to withhold federal funding to cities with sanctuary city policies.
“A vote for guilty in the federal case is a vote for Trump,” Serra said outside court Friday.
Federal prosecutors charged Garcia Zarate with two gun possession counts after a San Francisco jury acquitted him of murder but found him guilty of a gun charge.
Garcia Zarate was sentenced Friday to three years in jail for the state conviction. He has been behind bars in San Francisco since July 1, 2015, and with credit for time served, he fulfilled the sentence, the judge ruled.
His lawyers said he has served a total of 17 years in federal prisons for three illegal re-entry convictions.
San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi on Friday criticized federal prosecutors for adding the charges, which he called “ridiculous” and politically motivated.
“This is rarely done” after a defendant is acquitted on charges in a state court, Adachi said.
Garcia Zarate said he was sitting on a city pier when he found and picked up a gun wrapped in rags. His lawyer said he didn’t know it was a weapon until it accidentally fired, the bullet ricocheting of the pier’s concrete walkway and striking Steinle in the back.