KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
A jury in San Francisco has found an undocumented immigrant not guilty of murder or manslaughter in the shooting death of a young woman on the city’s waterfront. The case resulted in national headlines last year when Donald Trump used it in his presidential campaign to argue the country needs tougher immigration laws. The case raised questions about whether San Francisco, a so-called sanctuary city, should have released the man from jail two months before this woman was killed.
We’re joined now by KQED’s Alex Emslie, who covered the trial. Welcome to the show.
ALEX EMSLIE, BYLINE: Hi. Thank you.
MCEVERS: Tell us what this jury decided today and what evidence supported their decision.
EMSLIE: Yeah. So they found not guilty on almost all of the charges that the defendant faced with the single exception of being a felon in possession of a handgun. Jose Ines Garcia Zarate has some prior felony convictions mostly for illegal re-entry into the U.S. and then additionally some – what would today be considered low-level drug crimes, at least in San Francisco, Calif.
So he is looking at a potential 16-month sentence to a three-year sentence. But depending on, you know, what level he gets, he would almost have time served for the most severe sentence for the one crime that he was convicted of in this case. So it’s very likely that he will not be in criminal custody for very much longer. He is facing deportation again, however.
MCEVERS: What are some of the elements of this case that led jurors to this verdict?
EMSLIE: Yeah. And I think it doesn’t hurt to keep reminding the people of facts that were probably glossed over when this case gets to sort of the national level, when it is cited by the speaker of the House, by the president of the United States and – et cetera. They gloss over certain facts about this case. And probably the strongest one for the defense that contributed most to the jury’s verdict in this case is the fact that it was a ricochet shot that killed Kathryn Steinle.
The fatal bullet struck concrete about 12 feet away from the defendant and traveled another 78 feet to hit Kathryn Steinle. That and other physical evidence, other factors about the shooting that could be determined led to the defense’s argument that, look; this looks like an accidental discharge. It looks like this gun went off accidentally. And by their verdict, the jury appears to have agreed with that.
MCEVERS: Do you think this will have any impact on San Francisco or other sanctuary cities in how they deal with these cases in the future?
EMSLIE: There has been some change to San Francisco sanctuary rules. And we do have a new sheriff in place right now who handles the custody of defendants and what, if anything, about their immigration status might be communicated to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But as far as I know, none of those small tweaks that have been made would have changed the fact that this defendant would have been let go in San Francisco. So if he was again arrested and in custody today, he would still be released without necessarily – without that necessarily being told to immigration officials.
The one difference here, though, is I understand that there is a federal warrant out for his custody. So that is something that sanctuary cities including San Francisco have always said they would comply with. So in this particular case, it does look like if and when this defendant is released, he would be released into federal custody for deportation proceedings.
MCEVERS: KQED’s Alex Emslie, thanks so much.
EMSLIE: Thank you.
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