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Home Featured Zarate: Intentional killer — or confused and mentally ill?

Zarate: Intentional killer — or confused and mentally ill?

Prosecution witnesses inconsistent in second day of trial

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate listens to tesimony, wearing a headset for a court interpreter. Drawing by Vicki Behringer

The prosecution in the trial of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate tried to set the stage for the day Kate Steinle was killed, presenting witnesses who put Jose Ines Garcia Zarate on Pier 14 at the time – but the presentations were not always consistent.

The prosecution’s witnesses included three civilians and an SFPD officer from the crime scene investigation unit. 

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate listens to tesimony, wearing a headset for a court interpreter. Drawing by Vicki Behringer

The testimony today portrayed an image of Zarate that made him look erratic, indifferent, and unhinged. Public Defender Matt Gonzalez says that’s contrary to what the prosecution has been alleging — that Zarate intentionally aimed and shot Steinle.

Gonzalez spoke to the press briefly before the hearing began.

“We are trying to honestly portray what happened,” Gonzalez said. He said that Zarate’s mental state was important: “I think it would be wrong to pretend that there aren’t also mental state and mental health issues at play. So I’m trying to honestly present that without trying to improperly take advantage of that,” Gonzalez said.

The prosecution argued yesterday that Zarate had intentionally shot Steinle. “At the end of the day the jury has to answer one question and that’s whether or not the defendant intended to pull the trigger,” said Alex Bastian, press aide to District Attorney George Gascon.

The prosecution’s first witness Michelle Lo, a mother of two who lives on the East Coast and was at Pier 14 at the time of the shooting. She said she saw Steinle on the ground after she heard a loud bang.

She told the court she saw Zarate at the Pier earlier that evening. “I saw a man dressed in all black swiveling on the chair (…) he was just looking around at everyone.” When asked if she interacted with Zarate, Lo said she didn’t. 

A few minutes later, further down Pier 14, she said she heard a loud bang. “I heard a bang, I didn’t know what the sound was but it came from my left,” Lo said, saying she then heard a woman scream and turned around to see a woman on the ground. “I heard a scream a very sharp scream,” Lo said some people around them started to help the family.” I saw the woman’s dad holding her” 

Lo then said she saw “a man dressed in black turn and leave towards the street.” This is a crucial point — the prosecution is asserting that Zarate intentionally shot Steinle and then walked rapidly away from the scene.

Then came the cross examination. 

Gonzalez pointed out that in earlier statements to the police, Lo had said she barely remembered Zarate.

“Do you recall you said that you just glanced at him?” Gonzalez asked Lo, who testified that she didn’t remember her exact statement to the police. “Do you remember saying to the police on July 1st that you didn’t see his face?”

Gonzalez then read from the statement in which Lo told the officers at the scene that she didn’t remember what Zarate looked like. “I didn’t see his face, I don’t remember seeing faces but he was black.”

At this point, the prosecution objected to the statement — and it turned out that the prosecution had a different version of the testimony provided to the SFPD. Apparently, there was a translation problem, and Sgt Tang, the officer who interviewed Lo, is expected to testify in court at a later date. 

The next two witnesses were Maria Moreno, 34-year-old Central Valley resident who has been a teacher for the last five years. Morano and her roommate Erin Carpenter who were visiting San Francisco to escape the heat in Central Valley in July of 2015.

Moreno, who was staying on the fifth floor of the Griffon Hotel that faces the pier, detailed what she witnessed that evening. Moreno’s room had three large windows and she said she’d a clear visit of Pier 14 that evening after she heard a gunshot. “I heard a very loud upsetting scream of horror, that’s the first thing I heard. Next, I heard a woman screaming for help.”

Moreno said she saw a body lying on the floor, people surrounding the area but noticed only one man leaving the scene.”

During cross examination, Gonzalez focused on raising questions regarding Morano’s memory compared her. 

The questions boiled down to whether Morano witnessed Zarate leaving urgently or briskly from the crime scene. Gonzalez continued the same line of questioning with Carpenter, who told police that evening that Zarate appeared like “he didn’t care and was walking slowly.” 

During opening statements, Garcia said that Zarate had “fled” the scene, implying that he was running away from a crime.

The last witness of the day was Police Officer Raymond Ortiz, who works at the SFPD Crime Scene Investigation unit. The court saw a 20-minute video of the crime scene with images of Steinle’s beige sweater covered in blood, her sandals at a distance near a puddle of blood.

The testimony today portrayed an image of Zarate that make him look erratic, indifferent, and unhinged. Gonzalez says that’s contrary to what the prosecution has been alleging that he intentionally aimed and shot Steinle.

Ortiz will continue his testimony tomorrow.


  1. He’s an ILLEGAL immigrant. He is not a citizen, he has been convicted on multiple felony accounts and he has violated immigration law five times. That is who he is. That’s his character.

    Of course it makes a difference, just as the nature of any perpetrator makes a difference.

    Blaming these things on guns in and of themselves is nonsensical. The real causes have little to do with the weapons used and everything to do with failed social experiments.

  2. Judges often take the family’s wishes into consideration as they should. From what I read, the Steinle family hasn’t said much but they objected to the unwanted advertisement by politicians and the passing of Kate’s Law. We live in an incredibly violent society with more guns than people, and people are killed by guns every day in this country. I would like to hope that would change someday, but I don’t think it will in my lifetime.
    People who have any faith in humanity might like to believe that there is hope for reform for drug addiction and crime even in the worst case scenario, but Mr. Zarate kind of seems like a hopeless misfit. Sad scenario however you look at it.

  3. Im sorry that young woman was killed, in the same way I am sorry that 50 people were killed in las Vegas last month, and that thousands of Americans are killed every year in gun violence. We live in an incredibly violent country. There is no other country in the world with this level of armament among the civilian population. And even the Horror-in Chief we are forced to call President now admits that we have an epidemic of opioid addiction in the US. Gun + drugs = accidental deaths. The fact that he is an immigrant shouldn’t even make any difference in my opinion

  4. He has a country to which he can be returned. Had SF done the right thing when they should have, Kate Steinle would be alive.

    There’s a difference between offering sanctuary to the truly oppressed and the truly needy and being so idiotic you let a thug like this loose.

    And the reason we have so many untreated mentally ill people homeless and on the streets, and ending up in jail is because, while institutional reform was absolutely necessary, we closed dozens of mental health care facilities without first putting in place alternatives to the horrendous care they were receiving in too many institutions.

    Also, if people aren’t going to take an honest, objective look at how the destruction of families, of faith institutions, have led to an uptick in rudderless, confused, incompetent people, well, then we’ll never solve these issues.

  5. For most of its history San Francisco has been a place where people who would be considered outcasts or misfits could be welcome and lead safe, productive lives. During the time in American history when gay people were ostracized and condemned, the West Coast led the progressive movement against homophobia and may very well be partly responsible for the acceptance of gays into mainstream society. The nonconformists, the artists and the progressives are the ones who shaped the character of the city for the last 100 years. So in some ways it is natural that the city would attract people who face persecution or oppression although they are less welcome than they used to be.
    There are many different perspectives to any story. Someone who is listening to the Zarate case would probably conclude that the guy didn’t intend to kill anyone. On the other hand, its kind of like a DUI case – if you drive drunk and kill someone you still have a degree of responsibility.
    part of the problem these judges and jurors face is, what do you do with a character like this? What is the point of putting someone in jail which will not rehabilitate and costs millions of dollars?That is the real problem with our justice system – we really don’t have any humane rehabilitation centers which is why American jails are full of drug addicts and people with untreated mental illness. Sad story.
    The British had the right idea in the 18th century. The degenerates and misfits were shipped off to Australia to fend for themselves. Unfortunately we have run out of empty continents.

  6. Your criticism is so tiresome. It doesn’t make sense. Would you honestly prefer 48hills failed to exist?

  7. OK, and I guess that you don’t give a rats ass if what you read is true, as long as it is what you want to hear.

    To each his own. That’s what makes the world go round.

  8. Well I think that the constant spreading of false information deserves to be called out. For example, here is a direct quote from Tim on Aug 8:

    All we know is that at some point, whoever stole the gun ditched it, wrapped in what might have been a T-Shirt, and left it on a bench on the waterfront.

    That’s not true. We still don’t know that, and it is a critically important factor. It is just one of many things that the defendant said, most of which even his team says aren’t true.

    So people Google this stuff because they want to learn more, they come to 48 Hills, they get fed false information and the public discourse becomes that much weaker.

    Tim Redmond presents himself as a journalist. It’s perfectly fair game to point out instances that say otherwise.

  9. I’m not sure what your objective is here. It seems deriding Tim is more important to you than trying to garner the relative truth.

  10. Yes, I read that one. It basically said that the prosecution agreed not to claim that Zarate stole the weapon, because they didn’t want the jury to focus on the negligence of the BLM officer.

    You’ll probably remember Tim Redmond publishing stories awhile back about that negligence, including statements saying that the woman would be alive if he had secured the gun.

    So obviously Gonzalez was preparing to distract the focus away from Zarate and towards the BLM officer and the prosecution wanted to prevent that.

  11. Good policy not only for 48 hills but for information in general. At some point we accept certain things as a relative truth so we can move forward, but we should still remember they are relative. Don’t take my word for it, kqed has it posted online.

  12. I don’t accept that anything that I ‘discover’ here is true. If something that I read here interests me I do the research to find out how much, if any, of it is true.

  13. There was an agreement between counsels that was accepted by the judge, and kqed did an exclusive. Tim obviously has a direct line of communication with Gonazales, but this has helped us glean info. Remember, it was here you discovered that it wasn’t three shots that had been fired, as you had originally believed.

  14. Btw, you’re question of why the gun being found was being reported as fact was addressed in an article by kqed last week.

    I didn’t see that. I just saw an article saying that the prosecution stipulated that there is no evidence tying Zarate to the burglary. Apparently there is no evidence tying anyone else to the burglary either.

    I’ve read a lot about the case and I didn’t see the media reporting the “he just found the gun” story as fact. They all couched it as “according to the defense”. Tim Redmond originally presented the Matt Gonzalez’s case as proven fact but even he has now backed off. But I didn’t see any journalists doing the same thing.

  15. We’re receiving half-truths from both sides and we will never know what his possession of the gun really entailed.

    Half the inventory at 850 is mentally unfit. A mental healthough evaluation is not something that happens in the general population.

    Btw, you’re question of why the gun being found was being reported as fact was addressed in an article by kqed last week.

  16. Right — if they push this “mentally ill” angle, then they harm their own cause, which is that he was just a sweet little innocent sitting on a bench who jiggled a pile of rags, causing a gun to fire all by its widdle self.

    Pier 14 area is basically a homeless camp at night.

    This all comes back to the sanctuary city nonsense and the hare-brained approach SF takes towards the homeless. Thank God there are more and more conservative-minded folks moving into SF, folks with tons of money, folks who are big job-creators. They’ll not stand for this city’s disregard for the very people who put money in politicians’ , LE officers’ pockets and roofs over their heads.

  17. Also, Mirkarimi should not have released him if he appeared mentally unstable. He should have requested an evaluation as to the safety of releasing him onto the streets of San Francisco.

    If I was a juror I would think that the defense story is way too convenient. He just found the gun and it went off when he looked at it or something.

    Pier 14 is not where you stash a hot gun. A dumpster is a better option. We know that Zarate went through dumpsters because he said that he took sleeping pills that he found in one.

    Pier 14 is where Zarate might go to examine what he found in a dumpster. It would make no difference to me if he pulled the trigger. If he took possession of the gun that he found then he is responsible for her death.

  18. He is mentally fit to stand trial. If the defense wanted to push the mental illness angle, they should have done so earlier. He’s not mentally ill. He is contemptuous of the law, of human life, but he understands what he did, knows it was wrong.

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