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Verdict In Kate Steinle Case Sparks Debate Over Sanctuary Cities Again


In San Francisco, there has been a verdict in a controversial case about Kate Steinle. It's a young woman who was shot to death by an immigrant who is in the country illegally and who had previously been deported five times. A jury acquitted Jose Ines Garcia Zarate on charges of murder and manslaughter and found him guilty on charges of being a felon in possession of a gun. Since Kate Steinle's death in 2015, the case has been a talking point for Donald Trump during his campaign and his presidency.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Where was the sanctuary for Kate Steinle?

I am also going to ask Congress to pass Kate's Law.

The House will also vote on Kate's Law.

Named for Kate Steinle.

Named for Kate Steinle, who was killed by an illegal immigrant.

MCEVERS: Trump today criticized the verdict on Twitter. Federal officials quickly issued an arrest warrant for Garcia Zarate so they could get custody of him. Scott Shafer from member station KQED has been following the case, and he's with us now from San Francisco. Hey, Scott.


MCEVERS: So OK, just - first of all, just remind us what happened in this case.

SHAFER: So Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was released from San Francisco jail. He was there in April of 2015, a little over two years ago, after a 20-year-old marijuana charge had been dropped. And he was released even though ICE agents had asked San Francisco to hold him until they could pick him up. Now, the city's sanctuary city policy forbids local law enforcement from holding someone like that unless they're - you know, they have a warrant from the federal government. So he got out.

A few months later he was on a San Francisco pier, apparently finds this gun on the ground which had been stolen from a car. He picks it up and it fires a bullet which bounces off the pier and strikes this young woman, Kate Steinle, who is walking on the pier with her dad. She's about 80 feet away. And she died a short while later.

So shortly after that the police in San Francisco arrested Garcia Zarate. The DA charged him with murder and manslaughter. But the defense said, look; this was a terrible, inadvertent accident. They argued that the defendant found the gun. He picked it up and accidentally fired it. It was pointed at the ground. That much is not in dispute. And that he never intended to hurt anyone, much less kill anybody. And the jury more or less agreed.

MCEVERS: And now tell us about this warrant that federal authorities say they've issued.

SHAFER: So this guy won't be serving much more time in San Francisco jail. He was acquitted on most charges. The federal government wants to be sure now that he won't be released again. This warrant basically satisfies San Francisco's sanctuary policy. And it - you know, it could have been issued two and a half years ago before the city released Garcia Zarate the first time, and the feds would have had custody of him then. But this warrant ensures that the feds will have him, presumably take him to Texas.

And then today the U.S. Department of Justice confirmed to us at KQED that they're looking into filing federal charges related to the shooting. And I spoke to one legal expert here, Rory Little, who teaches at UC Hastings law school in San Francisco, and kind of puzzled through what possible charges there might be.

RORY LITTLE: Hard to see a federal interest here. But, you know, the Trump administration has a different view of immigration than we've had in the past, and maybe they'll see the immigration status of this guy as somehow being of federal interest. It doesn't accord with anything I've seen in the past that the Department of Justice has done.

MCEVERS: What are people in San Francisco saying about this verdict?

SHAFER: Well, you know, because of the facts in this case there wasn't too much surprise that Zarate wasn't convicted of murder. But I think many expected he'd at least be found guilty of manslaughter. The fact that he was acquitted on both, Kelly, shocked and angered a lot of people. The Steinle family said that they're not angry, but they are shocked. And they want to stop seeing this thing politicized as it has been by President Trump and others.

MCEVERS: Do you think it will jeopardize the sanctuary city status in San Francisco?

SHAFER: No, I don't. The mayor of San Francisco today said that San Francisco will always be a sanctuary city. In fact, the governor recently signed a bill to make the whole state a sanctuary state. So I don't think it's going to change.

MCEVERS: KQED's Scott Shafer, thank you.

SHAFER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Shafer