Prosecution portrays Garcia Zarate as sophisticated killer

Closing argument clashes with everything we have heard about the immigrant accused of killing Kate Steinle

The prosecution in the trail of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate offered closing arguments today, portraying the homeless immigrant as a sophisticated criminal who carefully plotted to hide a gun in his pocket, choose a target on Pier 14, wait until nobody was watching, and fire the round that killed Kate Steinle.

“The evidence shows he had a gun, concealed it, and pointed it in her direction,” Deputy District Attorney Diana Garcia said.

Prosecutor Diana Garcia tries to show that the gun would fit in the defendants pants. Drawing by Vicki Behringer

In a surprising move, the prosecutor asked Judge Sameul Feng to instruct the jury on First Degree Murder – and Garcia pushed that argument as far as she could go.

She said that Garcia Zarate was “sitting in a chair for 23 minutes, plenty of time for him to think about what he was doing. … He chose to go to the pier, to sit in a target-rich environment. … he was playing his secret version of Russian Roulette.”

She argued that he must have found the gun somewhere else, put it in his pocket, and brought it to the waterfront with a clear plan to harm someone. “This gun had value because it gave him power,” she said. “He wanted to fire this gun.”

She said that the defendant had waited until nobody was around him, so nobody could see him pull out the weapon. “The Steinles were the closest target. He chose the moment, and he chose the direction.”

The, she said, he fled the scene, heading for AT&T park, where there was a Giants game. Since he was wearing black, she said, he must have figured he could get lost in the crowd.

“He knew damn well what he did,” she argued. And then he fled the scene, tried to get away, and after he was arrested, consistently lied to the police about it.

The closing goes well beyond what the prosecution sought to portray in opening statements, which didn’t even hint at the idea that Garcia Zarate might have plotted to kill Kate Steinle.

And her argument directly contradicts pretty much everything we know about the defendant and the circumstances of the shooting.

Garcia Zarate has no history of violent crime. He’s never handled, much less fired, a gun, as far as we know. He has no prior arrests or convictions for assault.

The prosecution never offered a motive: Why would this guy, who was homeless, had a second-grade education, and had no history of trying to hurt anyone, suddenly decide to plot a murder?

Why, when he left the scene, did he sit on a planter about a mile away, where he was found by police?

I’ve watched the video of the police interrogation in the courtroom and heard the transcripts. It’s hard to believe he carefully plotted to kill anyone.

Matt Gonzalez, representing Garcia Zarate, told the jury in his closing that this case should never have been charged as murder. At worst, he said, it’s a manslaughter case, with no motive. In reality, he argued, it was a tragic accident.

“The is no motive,” he argued. “He didn’t know Kate Steinle.”

If he had intended to shoot her, Gonzalez said, “he missed by 78 feet. But for the ricochet, he never would have hit her. Can we say his finger was on the trigger because he wanted to do her harm?”

He told the jurors that “the prosecution goes deeper and deeper into a theory that they can’t prove.”

Gonzalez suggested that the death of Steinle was part of a terrible pattern. “In a country with 300 million guns on the street, somebody dies every day from an accidental discharge.

He went through the prosecution witnesses one by one, pointing out in every case that the jury would need to determine whether there is a reasonable doubt about the assumptions and implications of what those witnesses said.

The video of the shooting shows that Garcia Zarate was leaning down at the moment the gun discharged, Gonzalez said.

And since the defendant had only a tiny amount of gunshot residue on his hands – which could have been caused by contamination or by the gun discharging while wrapped in a rag or shirt – the jury will have to determine if “there is reasonable doubt that the gun was wrapped in something,” the defense lawyer said.

Gonzalez focused on the video that showed six people congregating around the chair where Garcia Zarate would later sit. “This is not an imaginary possibility, not the gun-fits-in-his-pocket-so-he-got-it-off-the-pier,” he said. “This is actual evidence.”

Gonzalez will finish his closing argument tomorrow, then the prosecution will get to rebut. The case should go to the jury by mid-day.