A San Francisco jury found the illegal immigrant accused of killing Kate Steinle not guilty of murder Thursday, a stunning result in a case that ignited a nationwide debate over illegal immigration and sanctuary cities.
Defense lawyers said the shooting was an accident that happened when Garcia Zarate, who had a history of drug crimes but no record of violence, found the gun wrapped in a T-shirt or cloth under his seat on the pier just seconds before it discharged in his hands.
"The verdict that came in today was not the one we were hoping for", said Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the San Francisco prosecutor's office.
The case gained national attention during the 2016 presidential race when then-candidate Donald Trump cited it as an example of why the sanctuary cities, which limit a city's cooperation with the federal government's efforts to enforce immigration law, should be ended.
He pointed out that Zarate was a seven-time felon who had been deported from the USA five times before the fatal shooting.
San Francisco prosecutors told the Superior Court jury that Garcia Zarate intentionally brought the gun to the pier that day with the intent of doing harm, aimed the gun toward Steinle and pulled the trigger.
Defense attorney Francisco Ugarte said Thursday the death of Kate Steinle was an "incomprehensible tragedy", but the ruling was a vindication for immigrants.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, arrested in connection with the July 1, 2015, shooting of Kate Steinle on a pier in San Francisco, is led into the Hall of Justice for his arraignment in San Francisco on July 7, 2015.
Undocumented immigrant acquitted of Kathryn Steinle's murder
"ICE knew that he had been deported five times", Mirkarimi has said.
Speaking after the verdict, Garcia Zarate's chief defense attorney, Matt Gonzalez, noted not only Sessions' previous comments on the case but also sharply warned Trump and others in his administration against commenting on the outcome, equating the case to the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections and possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russians.
Defense attorney Matt Gonzalez said in his closing remarks that he knows it's hard to believe Garcia Zarate found an object that turned out to be a weapon that fired when he picked it up.
The jury reached the verdict Thursday in Kate Steinle's death.
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