Kate Steinle’s accused killer found not guilty on all but one count of possession of a firearm (Update: Trump reacts)

John Sexton Posted at 9:21 pm on November 30, 2017

The illegal immigrant who shot Kate Steinle has been found not guilty on all but one charge involving possession of a weapon. From CNN:

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, 45, was acquitted of murder and involuntary manslaughter charges, as well as assault with a deadly weapon. Jurors convicted the Mexican citizen of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Garcia Zarate is subject to immediate deportation. He had been deported from the United States five times prior to Steinle’s death.

Prosecutors had argued Garcia Zarate intentionally shot Steinle, 32, with a Sig Sauer .40-caliber handgun as she and her father walked on San Francisco’s Pier 14. But Garcia Zarate’s defense attorney contended the shooting was accidental.

NBC Bay Area has posted some video from outside the courthouse. Zarate’s defense attorneys, Matt Gonzalez and Francisco Ugarte were both quick to connect the verdict to President Trump. Gonzalez seems to be anticipating a Trump tweet. Toward the end of this clip he says, “There are a number of people who have commented on this case in the last couple years—the Attorney General of the United States, the President and Vice President of the United States—let me just remind them that they are themselves under investigation by a special prosecutor in Washington, DC.” He added, “They may themselves soon avail themselves of the presumption of innocence and beyond a reasonable doubt standard. And so I would ask them to reflect on that before they comment or disparage the results of this case.”

Zarate’s other attorney, Francisco Ugarte was more blunt. “From day one this case was used as a means to foment hate, to foment division and to foment the threat of mass deportation,” he said. He added, “He was used to catapult the presidency along that philosophy of hate. And I believe today is a vindication for the rights of immigrants.” The sound quality is not very good here so I may have missed a few words:

The defense case all along has been that Zarate did not aim or fire the gun intentionally but that it went off and ricocheted off the ground before accidentally hitting Steinle. If that’s true it would  rule out first or second-degree murder which requires “malice aforethought.” What I don’t understand here (and I am not an attorney) is why the jury was unable to find Zarate guilty on the manslaughter charge. That charge is for incidents that don’t involve any intent but still result in someone’s death. For instance, I found this example on the website for a California law office:

During a fight with her husband, a woman retrieves her gun and waves it at him to threaten him (thus violating Penal Code 417 PC, California’s brandishing a weapon law). The gun accidentally fires, killing the husband.

Isn’t that sort of what happened in this case? Whether or not he intended to fire the gun he did pick it up and handle it and it went off and killed someone. Here’s an ABC News report from 2015 in which he seems to admit to firing the shot that killed Steinle. Again, I’m not suggesting that necessarily makes this murder, I just don’t understand how his handling of the weapon does not make him culpable for her death even if you assume the shooting itself was an accident.

Update: A statement from Attorney General Sessions.

Zarate will be deported:

Update: And here’s Trump’s tweet on the verdict.

Update: A helpful lawsplainer from Patterico:

On one hand, you have ordinary carelessness or an accident. This is not criminal. On the other hand, you have recklessness that is so different from usual care that the person is essentially indifferent to human life. That’s what rises to the level of criminal negligence. Put another way: criminal negligence is not just any negligence that results in death. It’s a reasonably high standard, as befits a criminal statute that carries prison time as a consequence for its violation.

Merely picking up a gun and having it accidentally go off is unlikely to be found to be criminally negligent. Waving it around or brandishing it is closer to the type of behavior that this crime targets.

That certainly matches the example I posted above of a woman brandishing a loaded gun at her husband. I guess what’s still not clear to me is how the jury decided that Zarate wasn’t also brandishing the gun. He apparently told both law enforcement and a news interviewer that he aimed the gun at a sea lion or some seals. That struck me as the kind of reckless brandishing that might suggest more than just an accidental discharge.

But the truth is I don’t know what the jury was told about that and it’s a little hard to follow Zarate’s own statements since his English is extremely limited. In any case, the jury must have believed he wasn’t brandishing the weapon when it went off since they didn’t convict on manslaughter. It’s just not clear how they got there. Maybe we’ll learn more in the coming days.





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