New evidence casts doubt on prosecution theory in Steinle killing

Unknown gun thief was involved in a second car burglary -- but cops are withholding key details

A motion filed today by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office sheds some new light on the events that led to the tragic killing of and undercuts the police and prosecution argument that Jose Ines Garcia Zarate intended to shoot Steinle.

The gun that fired the fatal round was stolen from a federal agent’s car four days before the fatal shooting — and new evidence shows that the burglar who took that weapon also broke into a second car nearby.

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate is not connected to the two car break-ins where a stolen gun was present

In fact, a magazine for the pistol was found near the second car, along with the federal agent’s backpack and credit cards.

But the SF Police Department has not released to the Public Defender the name of the person who rented the second car, who is identified only as Jane Doe, or any information about what happened to three computers, credit cards, and four passports that were stolen from that vehicle.

The existence of the second, clearly connected car break-in ads a key element to the narrative around the shooting.

Garcia Zarate — who in earlier filings was identified as Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez — has not been charged with either burglary, his prints were not at either scene, and there is no indication that he used or tried to sell any of the valuable items taken from those cars. 

The defense argues that Garcia Zarate stumbled onto the gun, which has a hair trigger, wrapped in some type of cloth on a bench, and that it went off accidentally. 

However, he is charged with being a felon in possession of a weapon, assault with a deadly weapon, and murder.

According to the narrative presented in the filing, an agent from the Bureau of Land Management left the loaded pistol unsecured in his car parked along the Embarcadero. Sometime in the evening of June 27, 2015, the gun, along with a a duffle bag, a backpack, three BLM uniforms, and the agents credentials and credit cards, were stolen. The agent reported the burglary at 11:14pm.

(Why a federal agent would leave his credentials, credit cards, and a gun in a car in San Francisco, where break-ins are common, remains a mystery that will presumably be answered when the agent takes the stand in the trial.)

Shortly afterward, that same evening, another car parked on the Embarcadero was broken into. That car was rented by someone who appears to have been a tourist, and who reported to the police at 11:34 that her car window was broken and that two laptops, an iPad, passports, and credit cards were missing.

The police found a magazine that fit the BLM agent’s gun, along with his credit cards, near the second car. 

It’s hard at this point to figure out the entire history of the stolen gun and how it wound up on Pier 14. But the filing suggests the thief discarded the second magazine — which, along with the gun, was worth a fair amount of money on the street — suggesting that “whoever stole the gun had no specific interest in it and did not plan on keeping it.” Maybe it was brandished in a robbery and then ditched; maybe the thief decided it was too dangerous to carry around and ditched it. 

Either way, the idea that someone other than Garcia Zarate left the gun on or around a bench on the pier is critical to the defense.

“Someone other than [Garcia Zarate] and other than the BLM agent had possession of the gun at a minimum at two locations over the four days it was missing,” Matt Gonzalez, chief trial attorney in the Public Defender’s Office, argues in the filing.

“Any jury selected for this case would have reason to doubt that a person charged with murder simply found a discarded gun on a public pier. Here, evidence that the gun was stolen days earlier, by a person who stole other items of value, none of which were found in Garcia Zarate’s possession, is important for the defense,” the filing notes.

Gonzalez and Francisco Ugarte, the two lawyers handling the Garcia Zarate defense, are asking Judge Samuel Feng to order the police to release full details of the second burglary, including the name of the victim. Without that, they argue, it’s impossible to conduct a full investigation in to the trail of the pistol.

And, the lawyers argue, “although the district attorney has been aware that these two break-ins were part of the same burglary event, Jane Doe’s police report was never discovered to the defense.”

Today’s filing starts to flesh out what the evidence is going to show in the trial. The DA is going to try to prevent the jury from hearing anything about the fact that a federal agent foolishly left a loaded gun in a car, about the fact that somebody stole and apparently later discarded that gun, and that Garcia Zarate discharged it by mistake.

The defense is going to try to point out that there were a string of events that led to the killing, and that Garcia Zarate only appeared at the very end and never intended to hurt anyone.

The outcome will depend in part on how much information Judge Feng will allow the jury to see. The lawyers will be back in court Sept. 5.

  • danimalssf

    I'm having a tough time figuring out how anything in this article supports the headline.

    I'm also having a tough time figuring out why Tim keeps posting articles like this and is trying to have this case played out in the press instead of the court room. Tim, what would your ideal resolution to this case be? Should Garcia Zarate just walk out of court a free man? What gives?

    • Arianna Gold

      Yeah, Redmond wants to see this guy walk which is why he sits at rock bottom in the world of journalism. He is a boring and broken record.

      • Geek__Girl

        In another words, he doesn’t repeat the lies you prefer.

        • SF Sunset Guy

          You’re two months late to this party.

          • Geek__Girl

            Yes, I missed this article when it was first posted.

          • SF Sunset Guy

            amazing. you’ve been too busy slandering others as racist bigots without evidence to notice the other articles?

          • Geek__Girl

            No, I simply didn’t check 48 Hills that much in August. The Board of Supervisor was on break, and I usually check it on Mondays to see what the Agenda says. I’ve read more during the trial, and will probably go back to checking less often when it is over.

          • SF Sunset Guy

            The BoS was on break? Who would know, other than the lack of grand-standing non-binding proclamations?

            You still haven’t provided evidence of racism on the part of another poster who you accused and labeled without so much as a second thought – which is unconscionable in this day and age as racism is the worst sin imaginable in the modern world.

          • Geek__Girl

            That person has disappeared. I will revisit the question if she comes back.

          • SF Sunset Guy

            It’s not a question. you libeled and smeared someone as a racist without proof. That’s wholly unjust. If there is proof, show it. If not , withdraw the claim. It’s not becoming to be slamming and defaming others – especially without proof or evidence of such a serious allegation.

          • Geek__Girl

            No, I didn’t. That person is quite racist. And a proven liar. Again, deal with it.

          • SF Sunset Guy

            yes, you indeed did, on multiple occasions. Re-read your own comments. You keep stating that a person is “quite racist” and “a proven liar” without offering any proof whatsoever. It’s slanderous. I am dealing with it the best way I know, which is asking for proof.

    • SF Sunset Guy

      HA! Just wait until Geek__Girl shows up, ready to canonize Garcia Zarate and bend over backwards to do so by smearing everyone else as blood-thirsty, malevolent bigots.

      • Geek__Girl

        I missed this one. And no, I am not trying to canonize Zarate. And I only smear people as blood-thirsty bigots when they post things like calls for Zarate to be murdered, lynched, tortured, or otherwise abused.

        • SF Sunset Guy

          which I’ve never done. but way to project.

          you repeatedly brushed off his felony convictions and stated that he only came here to make a better life for himself. While not canonization exactly, it’s a definitely favorable garnishing of his character.

          • Geek__Girl

            And trying to claim that significant evidence is unimportant is abuse. You are totally close minded to possibility that he might be innocent.

          • SF Sunset Guy

            innocent? no. perhaps found not guilty, which is a different matter.

            abuse? you’re the expert at slander, libelous and demeaning commentary and your mind is closed like a steel trap.

            what if he’s found guilty? have you prepared for that possibility? What then?

          • Geek__Girl

            Wow. You simply cannot deal with reality. If he is found not guilty, that IS being found innocent. As it is, for the moment, he is innocent. Only if he is convicted does that change.

            If he found guilty, I will be surprised. At worst, it might be a hung jury. The DA might dig his heels in and go for a retrial, or he might give up and drop all charges. I doubt the DA was able to load the jury with enough right wing-nuts to get a conviction. The prosecution tripped all over themselves. The defense was much stronger. The prosecution did not really make a prima facie case. Personally, I think we definitely need a new DA, and a complete housecleaning. If Garcia was the best they had for this case, it is no wonder that Gascon doesn’t prosecute many cases. If he did, his win/loss record would be disastrous.

          • SF Sunset Guy

            If he’s found not guilty, it doesn’t mean he is “proven” innocent. It means, in all likelihood, that the prosecution didn’t prove its case to the jury. The idea – in a court of law – is that he is to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise by the prosecution, with the jury’s vote. That’s all. And that’s only in court. Anyone else is free to speculate or hold a differing opinion.

            One doesn’t have to be a “right wing nut” to think this guy committed a crime, even in this town. The prima facie case was clearly made out, as this proceeded to trial. The prosecution doesn’t have to prove much to get a conviction, the defense counsel’s theatrics and obfuscations notwithstanding. They don’t have to prove a motive.

          • Geek__Girl

            You really hate the law, don’t you. If he is found not guilty, he is, by definition, innocent of all charges, and can never be tried for those charges again. That is how it works. O.J. is innocent of the murder of his ex-wife and her waiter friend. Yes, he was found innocent, mainly because the prosecution tried to present tainted evidence. As someone put it, “They tried to frame a guilty man.” But whether you like it, or not, he is innocent. There is no gray area you can find comfort in. And no, the prima facie case was not made. The prosecution consisted of some emotional testimony by the victim’s father, intended to tug at the heart strings of the jury, some vague testimony by various witnesses including one who seems to have made hers up, and testimony by a CSI who appears destined to cause massive problems for the DA’s office. If the lawsuit against him is successful, there will no doubt be appeals of every case he testified about. And cases proceed to trial without the prima facie case being made. I have not seen where Gonzalez moved to dismiss based on a lack of a prima facie, and judges rarely grant those, even if warranted, but the prosecutions case was bogus. The main witness was incompetent at best, and downright dishonest at worst.

          • SF Sunset Guy

            no, I don’t hate anything. I just know the definitions of the words.

            If he is found “not guilty” that doesn’t tell us whether he committed that or another crime, it says under the law, the jury did not convict – which could be for any myriad number of reasons. They didn’t like the circumstantial evidence. The prosecutor’s shoes weren’t polished. They’re not there to find out whether he is innocent, but whether the prosecution proves their case, and proves it beyond a reasonable doubt.

            Like OJ, he wasn’t “Found innocent” – that’s not what jury trials are for. The jury found him “not guilty” which is different. You can mentally, emotionally and psychologically contort this case and your perceptions like a pretzel, but cannot undo the facts. The prima facie case was indeed made out – had it not been, Gonzalez (who is no idiot) would’ve moved to have the case dismissed.

          • Geek__Girl

            Under the law, O.J. is innocent of murder. I know this sticks in your craw, but deal with it. In truth, we will probably never know what happened. The DA and LAPD mishandled evidence. Even if they did not plant blood evidence, and in all probability they did, they broke the rules concerning chain of evidence so badly it was absurd. He cannot be tried, even if evidence were found that proved he was the killer. It is one of protections of our system.

          • SF Sunset Guy

            Deal with it? Again? Juries aren’t asked to do anything other than find whether a person – in the eyes of the law – is guilty or not guilty. Period. This is pretty elementary stuff, which you should know. Under the law OJ is not a convicted murderer. That’s all. Whether the DA and LAPD mishandled evidence, that Judge Ito had corn flakes for breakfast, that one of the squad cars had a dirty windshield etc., isn’t germane. The jury found him “not guilty” of the crime he was charged with. They didn’t proclaim him “innocent”, so you’re the one needing to “deal with it”.

          • Geek__Girl

            I realize you have this intense need to think that everyone charged with a crime is guilty of it and people are only found “not guilty” when a clever attorney pulls some tricks and beats the system. But you keep dodging the point. You are certainly free to imagine, as I am sure you do, that OJ is not innocent of the murders. I’m not sure what the opposite of innocent would be….oh wait, the primary antonym of innocent is “guilty” and the primary definition of innocent is “not guilty of a crime or offense.” Oh and from Black’s Law Dictionary:

            What is INNOCENT?
            Free from guilt; acting in good faith and without knowledge of incrim- inatory circumstances, or of defects or objections.

            As I pointed out, you are playing word games. You, and anyone else is free to think someone, like O.J. is not innocent, but legally, as far as the crime he was charged with, and tried for, he is. People will always disagree on what happened, but legally, he is innocent, which is defined as “not guilty.”

            Whoops, I guess you are hoist by your petard. ROTFL!!!!!

            Again, I say, with great please, DEAL WITH IT!!!!!

          • Geek__Girl

            Given the time period when he received those felony convictions, and how they would be handled now, they are clearly not major issues. He has NO convictions for violence, and most of his “felony” convictions were for immigration. He is not some hardened criminal.

          • SF Sunset Guy

            Most of his felony convictions are for illegal re-entry yes, and in 1993, he was convicted three times in Washington state for felony heroin possession and manufacturing narcotics. Glad to know these aren’t “major issues” and simply indicative of him wanting a better life for himself. A seven-time convicted felon is indeed a hardened criminal – whether you care to believe it or not. Just because you want to white-wash his history doesn’t make him a victim of circumstance.

          • Geek__Girl

            The claim that he “manufactured narcotics” is a bit of a scam. In Washington, there is a single offense of “Sale and Manufacture of Narcotics.” It is not a separate offense. And he got a very light sentence. You simply want to paint him as a hardened criminal, when he isn’t. Certainly not a saint, but hardly a criminal mastermind either.

          • SF Sunset Guy

            Manufacturing narcotics isn’t a claim, it’s a conviction. A felony to boot.

            Whether it’s a separate offense in WA isn’t the point, I actually don’t care. His convictions and felony history are his. I’m stating the facts, not “painting him” in any light. He doesn’t have to “mastermind” the tying of his own shoes – but his recidivism and multiple felonies show he’s a repeat felon. That’s all. And on that note, I’m not willing to give him much in the way of the benefit of the doubt.

          • Geek__Girl

            Under the law in Washington, it is all one charge. It does not mean he actually manufactured heroin, which would be ridiculous. Heroin is made in other countries, and shipped here. Very few opium poppies are grown in the U.S. and they certainly don’t smuggle them in. It simply means he was convicted for the sale of drugs or manufacture. It an odd way of phrasing the law, and you are abusing the facts.

          • SF Sunset Guy

            I’m not an expert in manufacturing drugs, though I do know that heroin is made from poppies.

            Again, I’m not the expert in how the State of Washington prosecutes drug crimes, and the jury saw enough evidence to convict him, three times. Also I actually don’t much care how other states parse their drug charges.

    • Geek__Girl

      The ideal resolution would be for the truth to come out. This is significant information, and the fact that the police withheld it is outrageous.

  • SF Sunset Guy

    The take on this from reading this portion in the article – "The existence of the second, clearly connected car break-in ads a key element to the narrative around the shooting."

    It does no such thing. It may mean that the same individual or individuals are responsible for both break-ins, but adds zero as a "key element" to the narrative around the shooting", the facts of which are already known and public.

    • Geek__Girl

      Seriously? That is one of the dumbest claims I have heard, and I have heard some truly outrageous claims. It is very significant.

      • SF Sunset Guy

        “It is very significant.” Why? Why is that a dumb claim?

        it’s not proven that the two break-ins are connected. Or what each, either or both have to do with the shooting directly – other than that may be where the gun came from.

        You should be addressing serious points, not searching for 2 month old posts to reply to.

        • Geek__Girl

          Wow, you really will do anything to avoid facts. I mean, you really work at it. They found items from the first car break-in at the site of the second break-in. A magazine was discarded, even though it had some value. The agent’s credit cards were also found. And it is quite telling that DA failed to provide this information to the defense, in clear violation of the Brady rule. This IS a very serious point, which is why you are so hell-bent on trying to hand wave it away. Another inconvenient fact. Oh, and I didn’t search for this. It was mentioned by someone in a comment today, and I clicked on the link.