SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A California jury on Tuesday began deliberating the fate of a man accused in the fatal shooting of a woman walking with her father on San Francisco's Pier 14, a case that was the flashpoint of an ongoing and contentious debate over sanctuary-city policies in the United States.
Jose Ines Garcia-Zarate, 45, is charged with murder and gun charges in the 2015 shooting of Kate Steinle. If convicted, he faces up to 40 years in prison.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Matt Gonzalez worked down a punch list of circumstantial evidence against Garcia-Zarate, inviting jurors to find his client was not "someone who was hatching this sinister plan."
He insisted Garcia-Zarate accidentally discharged the gun he’d found, which was stolen from a federal agent's car four days earlier. He said if jurors reasonably believe the evidence showed the shooting was an accident, they must find Garcia-Zarate innocent.
In her closing statement, Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia said the idea Garcia-Zarate happened upon the gun when he sat down on Pier 14 is "fiction."
Whether or not the jurors agree on individual facts, the totality of the evidence supports a first-degree murder conviction, she said.
"He was playing his own secret game of Russian roulette," she said, adding that, "This gun had value to him because it gave him power."
He was seen laughing before the shooting, she said, because, "It's a big game to him that he doesn't want anyone else to know about." She said Garcia-Zarate took the gun to the pier and chose what he did that day.
She rejected the idea that Garcia-Zarate had accidentally discharged the gun: "There is no evidence in this case that this gun fired for any other reason than this defendant pulling the trigger."
Gonzalez, chief attorney of the San Francisco Public Defenders Office, disagreed. He said with no criminal intent, Garcia-Zarate fumbled with an object wrapped in a rag beneath his seat on Pier 14, the gun discharged, and the result was Steinle's death.
"The hallmark of an unforeseen accident is often a confluence of forces coming together to cause an exceptional moment that, afterwards, everyone doubts could happen," he told the attentive jury.
"The only question is whether this is manslaughter or not guilty, because it's an accident.”
Steinle’s death became a focus of debate over sanctuary city laws and immigration enforcement, because Garcia-Zarate, a Mexican citizen, had been deported five times. Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng ruled those issues off limits during this trial.
Before Feng gave the case over to the jury of six men and six women, the prosecution got the last word.
"It's clear that he wanted to fire this gun at people," Garcia said. "There's only one picture that fits this evidence. This defendant meant to shoot this gun and hurt someone."