On Friday, a California state appeals court threw out the felony gun conviction against Jose Inez Garcia-Zarate, the illegal immigrant who fatally shot 32-year-old Kate Steinle on July 1, 2015, on the San Francisco waterfront. Garcia-Zarate was previously acquitted of murder in the killing of Steinle, but was convicted of felony possession of a firearm.
The case against Garcia-Zarate, who was in the country illegally and had been deported five times, touched off a fierce immigration debate that was a fixture in Donald Trump's stump speeches in his 2016 presidential campaign.
The 1st District Court of Appeal overturned the gun conviction because the judge failed to give the jury the option of acquitting Garcia-Zarate on the theory he only possessed the weapon for a moment.
Garcia-Zarate said he unwittingly picked up the gun wrapped in a T-shirt, and it fired accidentally. The bullet ricocheted off a concrete walkway and struck Steinle, who was with her dad and a family friend.
At the time, Garcia-Zarate had recently been released from the county jail while facing deportation proceedings. He was released under San Francisco's so-called sanctuary city policy that barred local law enforcement officials from cooperating with most federal immigration investigations.
According to Garcia-Zarate's attorney, Tony Serra, Garcia-Zarate remains in custody and is set to go on trial in January, and the district attorney will have the option to re-try him on the felony possession charge. "That kind of error causes reversals all the time. Then the prosecution has the prerogative of going again," Serra said. "The state case is a heavier case because it's a homicide and a gun... It's going to be a big potential decision on what they're going to do."
Garcia-Zarate was acquitted of murdering Steinle in November 2017. "Justice was rendered, but it was not served," said Jim Steinle, Kate's father, when Garcia-Zarate was acquitted.