A jury on Thursday found a Mexican man not guilty of murder in the killing of a woman on a San Francisco pier that touched off a national immigration debate two years ago.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate had been deported five times and was wanted for a sixth deportation when Kate Steinle was fatally shot in the back while walking with her father on the pier.
Garcia Zarate did not deny shooting Steinle and said it was an accident.
The shooting came in the middle of the presidential campaign in July 2015 and touched off a fierce debate over the country’s immigration policies. It spotlighted San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” policy, which limits local officials from cooperating with US immigration authorities.
Politics, however, did not come up in the month-long trial, which featured extensive testimony from ballistics experts. Defense attorneys argued that Garcia Zarate was a hapless homeless man who killed Steinle in a freak accident. Prosecutors said he meant to shoot and kill her.
Garcia Zarate was found guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The San Francisco deputy district attorney Diana Garcia said during the trial that she didn’t know why Garcia Zarate fired the weapon, but he created a risk of death by bringing the firearm to the pier and twirling around on a chair for at least 20 minutes before he fired.
“He did kill someone. He took the life of a young, vibrant, beautiful, cherished woman by the name of Kate Steinle,” she said.
A defense attorney, Matt Gonzalez, said in his closing argument that he knew it was difficult to believe Garcia Zarate found an object that turned out to be a weapon, which fired when he picked it up.
But he told jurors that Garcia Zarate had no motivation to kill Steinle and that as awful as her death was, “nothing you do is going to fix that”.