Garcia Zarate gets time served — but won’t go free

Judge sentences him to three years, which he has already served -- but now the feds want to try him again for the same gun crime

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, the undocumented homeless man whose trial became a national issue, was sentenced to three years in prison on Friday in the death of Kate Steinle. Although Garcia Zarate has already served more than that sentence in county jail awaiting trial, he will not walk free. 

The 45-year-old Mexican national was acquitted of murder and manslaughter in San Francisco Superior Court in November – but will now face criminal charges in federal court. 

Garcia Zarate listens as the judge sentences him to three years. Illustration by Vicki Behrninger

Before the sentencing today, Garcia Zarate’s attorney, Matt Gonzalez, filed a motion for retrial, arguing that the jury wasn’t instructed properly on momentary possession of a firearm. “It’s like if I handed you an envelope with contraband in it. You didn’t know what was in it until you opened it and once you realize you immediately throw it on the floor. That would not be considered possession or intent to dispose,” Gonzalez said repeating defense’s argument that Garcia Zarate didn’t know he was holding a firearm until it went off. 

A grainy video shown during the trail reveals that Garcia Zarate threw the firearm into the bay shortly after the shooting. The motion for retrial was dismissed, and  Gonzalez will now be filing an appeal against the gun possession charge which he called “miscarriage of justice.” 

Famed attorney J. Tony Serra will be defending Garcia Zarate in the federal court. Serra joined defense attorneys Matt Gonzalez and Francisco Ugarte in court on Friday after the sentencing and said that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is expected to arraign Garcia Zarate early next week. He’s facing federal charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm and being an undocumented immigrant in possession of a firearm.

Serra, joined Gonzalez in calling out the Trump administration for being retaliatory and vindictive for filing federal charges. 

“Shame on the federal government. Shame on the Trump administration. Shame on them in terms of bringing a retaliatory, vindictive prosecution,” Serra said.

Gonzalez called the federal charges politically motivated on the part of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“That has all the hallmarks of a vindictive prosecution. They don’t like the outcome so now they want to come after him again.” Gonzalez said.

It’s highly unusual for someone convicted of a gun crime in state court to also face charges in federal court – unless the person has a long history of firearms crimes or gang affiliations.  

The killing of Kate Steinle set off a political firestorm on illegal immigration during the 2016 presidential election. Trump was furious at the outcome of the trial.

Serra will seek to prove that it’s unfair to force Garcia Zarate to face the same charge in two courts – and that the feds filed charges only after he was acquitted of murder.

20 COMMENTS

  1. If you were on the jury maybe you would have sided with the majority…you don’t know and neither do i. Being sequestered and having all but the relevant information filtered without being bombarded by media sensationalism makes you see things in a different light.

    Either way its time to move on to other business. There are too many problems in the world to be obsessing on this one man.

    I honestly don’t know why so many people want to come to this country anyway, they must be out of their minds.

  2. The prosecutor deliberately sabotaged the case by going for murder one, knowing that it would be impossible to prove. It’s called being a good soldier for the cause. Unfortunately, Steinle’s death is not rare, nor is crime against citizens by immigrants.

    And second…nevermind. I’m going to address it in a post.

  3. The prosecutor went all out and tried the case for murder wanting to get the maximum sentence. If she had tried him for involuntary manslaughter (easier to prove) she might have had a conviction.
    We live in a country with nearly 350 million people. If there are a few million illegal immigrants it represents a small percentage of the population.
    there are many more serious problems in our society that need attention. Let the INS do their job, if they want to deport people they do it all the time. This happened under Obama and Bush as well as the present administration. it has always happened. It would happen to an American in another country.

  4. I will ammend what I said (this is an opinion forum)
    A JURY (not me) found this man not guilty of premeditated murder. The prosecutor probably should have tried him for involuntary manslaughter. Why continue to pursue this?
    the reason this case is getting so much attention is that the so-called “alt-right” and Mr. Trump turned it into a sensation instead of a tragic accident and it started to receive national attention as if it is a systemic issue of crime among illegal immigrants.
    I wasn’t on the jury. I also don’t think this man represents a real threat to society at this point.
    “if he wasn’t in this country Steinle would be alive” Well, maybe but if the federal agent hadn’t left his gun in the car she would be alive. Why not try to deal with the issue of excessive gun violence in our society by prosecuting people who leave firearms where others can find and use them? Why not try to limit the access to guns instead of letting anyone walk into Walmart and buy a lethal weapon? That is the real problem in the United States in my opinion, the presence availability of guns more than illegal immigration

  5. “Thousands of people die in gun violence every year in the United States. Zarate obviously had a drug problem and was probably either high or delusional when he fired the gun. It was a tragic accident but not premeditated intentional murder.”

    “They should just deport him to his own country and leave him alone.”

    So, with that logic, when people are killed by drunk drivers, we should just let them go. It was an accident. They didn’t mean to do it.

    Yeah – why have laws at all? We could just ask people how they feel when they commit a crime and judge them based on their level of regret or intent. If they cry, well, that’s proof right there that it was just an accident. The black guy that attacked you probably felt triggered by your whiteness, so really, it was your fault that you were attacked. You should have begged his forgiveness for your ancestors’ cruelty that he clearly recalled from his grandmother’s stories from her grandmother’s stories of her grandmother’s stories of being a slave.

    You’re so far ahead of your time. Genius.

  6. No, but it might make the family think her life mattered more to her government than Zarate’s sorry life.

    Nothing has happened to you from the actions of an illegal immigrant. This case isn’t just about a crime; it’s about the fact that if this illegal had not been in the country, and he shouldn’t have been, Steinle would still be with her family today. Her life MATTERED – not to the sanctuary city government, not to Nancy Pelosi, not even to the prosecutor in this case…

    It is clear that Californians matter less to politicians than illegal immigrants.

  7. Not his fault? Seriously? He killed her. She didn’t kill herself. He held the gun and he pulled the trigger. There’s not even a question about that. He had no business in the country to begin with.

    Just because you say I’m racist doesn’t make it so – or clear. But what IS clear is that your fall back is a character attack. At the very least Zarate was negligent – at worst – he did it on purpose. We’ll never know now. But, he took her life and should be punished.

  8. Well, it does pander to the racists, white supremacists, white nationalists, and such that are the core of Trump’s base. He is tossing them red meat to gnaw on.

  9. The behavior exhibited that evening is characteristic of someone on some type of chemical substance. But maybe not. If the police tested him they would not necessarily release that information to the public, not even at trial.
    I don’t think he is a real threat to the public at this point

  10. There is no evidence that he was high, or that he was using drugs at the time of the shooting. I would pretty much imagine he was tested upon arrest. That is pure speculation on your part.

    That said, I agree, trying him on Federal charges is just another example of Trump’s poor behavior.

  11. What a total load of crap.

    It was a bizarre and tragic accident.
    Zarate was tried by a proper jury, and the evidence showed he did not murder her, was not negligent, and was not Zarate’s fault. You are clearly a racist, and that is the only reason you think Zarate is guilty.

    The Zarate verdict is JUSTICE. End of story.

  12. “If they just deported him, Steinle would be alive today!”
    Such a claim is indefensible. Her death was the result of a bizarre chain of events. But she could have died of any number of causes. Not dying of one does not mean she would not have died of another. Of course, then her death might not have been useful to the kooks on the Right.

  13. Thousands of people die in gun violence every year in the United States. Zarate obviously had a drug problem and was probably either high or delusional when he fired the gun. It was a tragic accident but not premeditated intentional murder. Similar situation to a DUI.
    WAy too much national attention is devoted to this case. And the next time there is another mass shooting bigger than the one we saw in Las Vegas a few months ago people will shrug their shoulders and move on. This is America. Anyone with any common sense is going to be much more worried about his or her next door neighbor than some Mexican immigrant with a gun.
    And in case you say I would take a different stance if it had happened to me, well a similar situation did happen to me. I was a victim of a DUI 25 years ago, the man’s car flipped over on its side and he was instantly killed. I miraculously walked away. And just last year I was punched in the face by an angry black dude in the subway. It still hasn’t changed my attitude about the Zarate case.
    They should just deport him to his own country and leave him alone. Spending millions of dollars of taxpayer money to warehouse this man in a US jail isn’t going to bring the girl back.

  14. I don’t follow a ‘party line’, unlike those who made this into an political issue about “illegals,” against the Steinle family wishes.

    This became a national case during the presidential campaign, several months before the trail began at the end of October, so your silly claim that the ‘miscarriage of justice’ is why it became a national cause is ridiculous.

    And it is an miscarriage of justice because of louts like you who influenced the SF DA to only allow charges that indicated that this act was intentional. A lesser manslaughter charge would have had Zarate found guilty and in jail. There is no way that firing a weapon at the ground and having the bullet ricochet and killing someone can be seen by any reasonable person as being intent to kill.

    Finally, your desire that I become a crime victim because of what you perceive to be my political beliefs it despicable. Reasonable people can disagree. Fascists seek political conformity at all costs.

    Go away, fascist.

  15. The man killed Steinle and there is no justice for her or her family. Her life was snuffed out by Zarate. Period. Those are facts and not delusions. She will never smile again. You can’t get her back. Zarate has no right to a single day without facing that fact, without paying for that crime of taking her life. Whether he did it on purpose or not isn’t the issue. He destroyed people’s lives – and for that – he must pay equally – or to the extent that the law will allow.

    The Steinle murder represents a miscarriage of justice, which is why it became a national cause…I bet you cried all over the place when Officer Wilson was acquitted of shooting Michael Brown though. Bet you shouted to all who would listen that Brown was shot because Wilson was a racist cop who shot him while his hands were up, right? Yeah, I’m right. Nevermind that the trial revealed none of that crap even happened and the guy was trying to wrest the gun away from the cop.

    Always have to follow the party line though, don’t you? You wouldn’t take a conservative stance if your life depended on it. Hey look on the bright side. You too might become a victim of a crime committed by an illegal immigrant or maybe even an angry black man. Then, you can say you’re paying the price for white privilege.

  16. “You are delusional. It was Trump and right-wingers like you who made the Steinle case into a national cause and propelled Zarate into “celebrity.”

    You made this bed so now you get to sleep in it.”

    Exactly.

    And how disingenuous of those who cried “If they just deported him, Steinle would be alive today!” and “SF’s sanctuary law prevented the feds from deporting him.”

    Now the feds have custody over Zarate. Are they deporting him? No.

    Also, is the fact that they are not deporting him powerful evidence of vindictive prosecution?

    Yup.

    Just wait until Tony Serra subpoenas the US Attorney and the US President for testimony in this case.

    Then, Zarate will really be in the spot light.

    How utterly stupid of the US Attorney and the US President. They’ve exposed themselves as fools in the wake of this case and the new charges ensure their public blunders will get only more extreme and more public.

  17. “…enough with making Mr. Zarate a celebrity.”

    Then call up the US Attorney and tell him to deport the guy. I guarantee you won’t hear from him again until he makes his way back into the US. Certainly, prosecuting new charges against Zarate that have little chance of success does nothing but keep Zarate in the public eye.

  18. You are delusional. It was Trump and right-wingers like you who made the Steinle case into a national cause and propelled Zarate into “celebrity.”

    You made this bed so now you get to sleep in it.

  19. The question at this point is not whether Jose Ines Garcia Zarate is innocent or not but rather why he deserves this protracted attention and bloated coverage? Forgive me for being cynical but I know this to be true: if you – you reading this – live long enough you too will find yourself one day in a situation where you will be accused of some act and judged by “people in power,” except that J. Tony Serra, the ACLU and 48 Hills will definitely not be interested in what you have to say, no matter how much you have been wronged. This death of Kathryn Steinle was horrible; enough with making Mr. Zarate a celebrity.