SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Lawyers for the man acquitted of murder in the shooting death of a woman on a San Francisco pier want a new trial on the only charge for which he was found guilty: being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Jose Ines Garcia-Zarate’s attorneys with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office filed a motion for a new trial on Thursday, arguing two proposed jury instructions which the judge declined to give would have produced an acquittal on the possession charge.
The San Francisco District Attorney's Office did not immediately respond to a request for a comment on the new filing.
At trial over Kate Steinle's death, the jury rejected first-degree murder, second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter charges, as well as an assault charge against Garcia-Zarate, 45.
Steinle’s death set off a national debate over sanctuary city policies, as Garcia-Zarate had been released from a San Francisco jail before the shooting and was not turned over to immigration agents for deportation per the city’s sanctuary-city rules.
Soon after the near-full acquittal, federal prosecutors filed immigration-related weapons charges against Garcia-Zarate.
Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney at the San Francisco Public Defender's Office, said the jury asked the judge revealing questions during their deliberations about how much "knowledge" a defendant must have and how long a defendant must possess a firearm to support the possession charge.
"They believed he picked up an object, didn't know what it was, the gun fired, but at that moment he knew it was a gun. As he threw it, he had this very momentary possession that they felt compelled to convict him of," Gonzalez said.
He said he asked San Francisco Superior Judge Samuel Feng to instruct the jury that there's a defense to that kind of possession, but Feng refused.
Gonzalez said since Garcia-Zarate has served nearly the maximum time on a possession charge, the new motion was filed to influence the new federal case against him.
"Candidly, I think it's obvious that the federal government is upset that he was found not guilty,” Gonzalez said.
He said federal prosecutors charged Garcia-Zarate before they had a transcript or other details from the state court trial, adding, "They're certain they want to charge him with whatever they can."
Speaking after a sentencing status conference today, Francisco Ugarte, also of the San Francisco Public Defender's Office, said the motion for a new trial hinges on what he said was a missed opportunity for Feng.
Feng failed to tell the jury about two elements that would have undermined the possession count, he said. Garcia-Zarate's possession of the Sig Sauer P239 was "momentary," he said, and he threw the gun off the pier as soon as he realized it was a firearm.
Ugarte said if Feng grants the motion, the San Francisco District Attorney's Office will have to decide if it wants to retry Garcia-Zarate on the possession count. That count carries a sentence of 16 months to three years; Garcia-Zarate has already spent nearly 2 1/2 years in the county jail.
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