Zarate prosecution witness blasted for role in earlier murder trial

Wrongfully convicted man suing SF over case where Inspector Evans gave what one critic called wildly inaccurate testimony

A key witness in the prosecution of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate gave testimony in a prior case that an expert alleges was not only inaccurate but possibly improper.

John Evans, a former Police Department crime scene investigator, testified that Garcia Zarate killed Kate Steinle. “A human being held the firearm, pointed it in the direction of Ms. Steinle, pulled the trigger and fired the weapon, killing Ms. Steinle. This is the only way it could have happened,” he said.

Former CSI investigator John Evans testifies in the Garcia Zarate case

A defense expert, Jim Norris, former director of the SF police lab, directly challenged that analysis.

But this isn’t the first time Norris has taken issue with Evans’ testimony. The crime lab chief, now a private forensic consultant, blasted the officer’s role in the trial of Jamal Trulove, a one-time reality-show contestant who was convicted of murder in 2010. Evans was among the officers who inspected the crime scene and he testified at the trial.

That conviction was overturned on other grounds, and Trulove was acquitted in a second trial, in 2015.

Now Trulove is suing the city – and in documents filed as part of that case, Norris states that Evans’ findings in the Trulove case “are completely inconsistent with minimally acceptable practices for forensic reporting and testimony. If, as the Director of the Forensic Services Division, I learned of such behavior by an Inspector in Crime Scene Investigations, I would have initiated an investigation into the matter for possible misconduct.”

Trulove was charged in the killing of Seu Kuka, who was shot outside his Visitacion Valley apartment in 2007.

One of the key issues in the case was the placement of the shell casings that were ejected from the nine-millimeter gun as it fired. The pattern of the casings, Norris argued, were inconsistent with eyewitness accounts that pointed to Trulove.

The position Norris put forth was consistent with the findings of the medical examiner, court testimony shows.

However, Evans testified that the pattern of the casings would be easily influenced by wind, bounces, and other factors and would be almost completely random. They would be useful for establishing where a shooter might have been only “on the level of a broken clock being right twice a day.”

Attempting to determine the position of a shooter from shell casings is “a fallacy,” he testified, according to a court transcript of his remarks.

He based this mostly on his own experience firing weapons, although another police inspector, Ronan Shouldice, had done a report showing that almost all shell casing from that sort of gun are ejected to the right and backward.

That’s what the existing peer-reviewed literature also says, Norris wrote in a report used as part of Trulove’s civil suit.

“In his deposition in this civil case, Evans said that he had never read the Shouldice study before he testified about it at Jamal Trulove’s 2015 criminal trial, but claimed he had discussed it with Shouldice before testifying. Shouldice said at his deposition that he did not recall discussing the study with Evans, and that he believes he would remember such a discussion had it occurred,” Norris wrote.

“In Inspector Shouldice’s deposition testimony, he testified that Inspector Evans’ characterization of the study as showing a large percentage of the casing ended up in front of the shooter, was not only inaccurate but constituted a gross misrepresentation. Inspector Shouldice expressed surprise at the content of Inspector Evans’ testimony. Inspector Shouldice also testified that it was inappropriate for Inspector Evans to testify in court about a study he had not read, and for an expert to misrepresent the strength of findings in a study.”

In fact, Norris wrote:

“The repeated findings and testimony of Evans that shell casing analysis is random on the order of a clock being right twice a day is completely inconsistent with the understanding of the forensic community and other forensic examiners at the SF Crime Lab.”

Although the defense has finished its case, Prosecutor is expected to call a rebuttal witness Monday, and since much of the defense case relied on firearms and forensic experts, Evans could be called back to the stand.

Francisco Ugarte, one of Garcia Zarate’s lawyers, told 48hills: “Mr. Evans’s apparent fabrication while testifying in a 2015 homicide trial is troubling and raises questions about his integrity. At worst, he lied intentionally, and at best, he was incompetent to testify about ballistics evidence.”

It would be up to Judge Samuel Feng whether to allow the defense to bring up the Trulove case and the criticisms of Inspector Evans and his competence.

  • Neat trick today by Gonzalez,

    When he found out that the Prosecution was gonna call John Evans back to the stand after 48 hills and Redmond had unmasked his, shall we say, ‘bending the truth’ …

    When Matt found that out they went right back and lined up Jim Norris, former head of firearms forensics both at SFPD and in San Mateo.

    That’s Jim Norris and he made the DA’s experts look really incompetent.

    So, DA folded and neither was heard.

    In court.

    But, yet again the DA strategy of walking right past the media has given the Public Defender’s team a big advantage.

    For instance, when Norris came down the hall after not having to testify again at all, one of the reporters (Michael Barba?) commented, “We should have asked that guy some questions. My reporter’s radar was off.”.

    I immediately ran down the hall and retrieved Norris who soon was surrounded by a half dozen or more news outlets.

    He spoke knowledgbly … how the hell you spell that?

    He talked for at least 5 or 10 minutes.

    So, the Defense witness got his testimony in anyway.

    And, I’m guessing, to a couple of million people.

    Go Giants

    1

    • danimalssf

      Helluva way to run a justice system.

      • Geek__Girl

        Again, it appears that the DA’s office is badly mismanaged. I know that prosecutorial misconduct occurs, but this is pretty absurd.

  • Geek__Girl

    It just gets worse and worse for the prosecution. Are they really this incompetent? Apparently. Evans should be investigated. That could be a nightmare for the DA. If he is shown to be dishonest in his testimony, it could result in a number of cases being overturned and having to be retried. This is why the DA should be careful to avoid this sort of screw-up. The innocent can be convicted, and as a result, guilty people can be freed because it can be hard to win at retrial.

  • SF Sunset Guy

    It would be up to Judge Samuel Feng whether to allow the defense to bring up the Trulove case and the criticisms of Inspector Evans and his competence.

    this is what is at issue today.

    I’m having a difficult time understanding the following from the article: what is Tim saying exactly? Anyone care to chime in?

    One of the key issues in the case was the placement of the shell casings that were ejected from the nine-millimeter gun as it fired. The pattern of the casings, Norris argued, were inconsistent with eyewitness accounts that pointed to Trulove.

    The position Norris put forth was consistent with the findings of the medical examiner, court testimony shows.

    However, Evans testified that the pattern of the casings would be easily influenced by wind, bounces, and other factors and would be almost completely random. They would be useful for establishing where a shooter might have been only “on the level of a broken clock being right twice a day.”

    • Geek__Girl

      Simply put, it appears that Evans ignored a key bit of evidence, and attempt to imply that it was not significant, thus making it look stronger for the prosecution’s case. But Norris showed that the placement of the shell casings was consistent with what the medical examiner found. This is not unlike what Evans has tried to pull in the Zarate case, where he claimed he could not determine the path of the bullet, but claimed it was straight (which may well have not been true at all, probably wasn’t) implying that Zarate “aimed” at Steinle. That is an absurd claim, since there is no evidence that Zarate took the gun in hand, and raised it to a firing position. It was apparently in his lap as he was sitting on the seat. Now, seriously, would anyone deliberately fire a gun while it was sitting in his lap, except maybe in an old Western where he is shooting someone sitting at the table during a card game And even then, they would shoot it while it was on their leg.