This murder case captured media attention across the county after Trump used Zarate Garcia as exhibit number one as to why our borders need to be tighter and that sanctuary cities put our citizens at risk. Trump argued that Kate’s life would not have been lost if San Francisco was not a sanctuary city. Supporters of sanctuary cities argue that a single man’s actions should not dictate how we formulate policy regarding undocumented people living and working within our borders. Former Sheriff Mirkarimi made the fateful decision to demand that the feds bring Garcia back to San Francisco for a mere marijuana case. When the case was dismissed, the sheriff’s department then released Garcia. It just did not make sense to bring him back in the first place unless Garcia was facing serious charges.
Regardless of the immigration debate, why did the jury acquit Garcia of the most serious charges? I expected that jury would struggle between murder in the second degree and involuntary manslaughter. Instead, the jury found him guilty of possessing a gun as a felon and acquitted him of murder and the lesser charges.
The jury did not find Garcia responsible because they must have believed that the gun accidentally went off. Matt Gonzales, Garcia’s attorney, presented evidence that this type of gun has accidentally fired in the past. Further, Gonzales obtained a concession from the medical examiner that the bullet was deformed consistent with a ricochet. There was also testimony that there was an indentation on the pier that would have been caused by a stray bullet. These facts supported the notion that Garcia was not aiming at Steinle. The People presented evidence to the contrary, but clearly it did not convince the jury.
Second, the defense presented video evidence showing a group of people congregating in the same spot where Garcia later sat. It supported the Defendant’s theory that Garcia had found a gun discarded there. It seems like a leap that the gun went off accidentally, but there was no witness to shooting and one could not make out what happened from surveillance video.
In Garcia’s statement to the police, he admitted shooting the gun at a seal. His statement was wildly inconsistent with what we knew to be true. For example, he claimed he was five feet away from Steinle when in fact he was more than 90 feet away. The back and forth between the officers and him did not help clarify, and the defense claimed that Garcia only admitted shooting the gun after the police failed to accept the explanation that it was an accident. Gonzales’s ability to have the jury disregard portions of his client’s statement was crucial to the acquittal of the murder charges.
Immediately afterwards, Trump criticized the verdict. Matt Gonzales notably said that the President should refrain from criticizing the verdict because by doing so, he is criticizing the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt.