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 Kate Steinle 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.
In fact, a magazine for the Sig-Sauer 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.