Video casts doubt on prosecution theory in Kate Steinle killing

Grainy but clear evidence suggests Zarate was bending over when shot was fired

The jury in the trial of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate saw a video of the moment when a gun fired and killed Kate Steinle today.

The video, from a security camera on a fire station more than1,000 feet away, was grainy and low-resolution. But it appeared to show Zarate seated in a chair and bending down just before the gun discharged.

A screenshot from a security video clearly shows six people congregating around the chair that Jose Ines Garcia Zarate sat in — 29 minutes before he arrived

It also showed, fairly clearly, six people congregating for some time around that same chair on Pier 14 – some of them reaching toward the ground – just a few minutes before Zarate arrived.

There is nothing visible in the video showing Zarate pointing a gun at anyone.

That, Francisco Ugarte, one of Zarate’s attorneys said, was consistent with the defense theory that the homeless immigrant had reached down to pick up something that turned out to be a loaded Sig-Sauer gun, and the gun accidentally discharged.

The six individuals, who never walked to the end of the scenic pier, were engaged in activity that “is not consistent with tourism,” Ugarte said. He called it “remarkably coincidental” that they were right in the spot where Zarate says he found the gun about 29 minutes before he arrived.

“We believe it’s entirely likely this group discarded the weapon,” Ugarte said. “That’s consistent with his statement that he found the gun [on the pier].”

Matt Gonzalez questions Paul Endo about the video evidence. Illustration by Vicki Behringer

Ugarte said that those two key pieces of evidence “corroborate [Zarate’s] statements to the police.”

Paul Hiromi Endo, president of the San Bruno video and graphics consulting firm Think Twice Inc., was certified as an expert witness in the case.

He described how he worked with the relatively low-quality security video, which used only ten frames a second and was compressed to save storage space, to try to extract usable evidence.

That evidence, Endo said, shows that between the time the group of six people were active around the chair Zarate would sit in, only two other people passed through that area. One sat in the chair for a second or two, and the other just stopped briefly in the same region.

The video shows Steinle falling to the ground just an instant after Zarate appears to be bending down.

Since there were no eyewitnesses to the shooting, the video that the jury saw today is the closest thing to solid evidence of what happened. It appears to contradict the prosecution’s theory of the case, as promoted by retired police officer John Evans, who testified that “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.”

Endo made clear that even with computer enhancements, the video is so low resolution that smaller items like an arm or a gun would not be visible. But it does show that Zarate was sitting down during the entire incident, an unlikely position from which to fire a gun if your goal was to shoot somebody.

Tomorrow prosecutor Diana Garcia will cross-examine Endo.