Steinle Murder Verdict Could Hinge on a Mistranslation

Kate Steinle.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Defense rested for the man charged with shooting Kate Steinle to death, with a translation expert who faulted the skills of a police interpreter during the late-night interrogation of Jose Ines Garcia-Zarate.

Defense expert Fanny Suarez said that when police asked Garcia-Zarate in Spanish if he had “pulled the trigger,” they actually asked if he had “fired the gun.”

Garcia-Zarate, 45, is charged with second-degree murder and gun charges for shooting Steinle as she walked with her father on San Francisco’s Pier 14 in July 2015. If convicted, he faces up to 40 years in prison.

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.

Citing a transcript of five hours of recorded police questioning, Suarez said that San Francisco police Officer Martin Covarrubias apparently did not know the Spanish word for trigger.

Garcia-Zarate’s attorneys acknowledge that he made the gun fire, but said it happened accidentally as he fumbled with an object he found under his seat, wrapped in a rag or shirt.

The difference between pulling the trigger and firing the gun could be important to jurors, who must decide whether Garcia-Zarate intended to harm Steinle or others on the pier.

Speaking outside the courtroom after Thursday’s proceedings, Matt Gonzalez of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office said the prosecution’s case hinges on the trigger, and that there is a difference between admitting to causing a gun to fire and pulling the trigger.

“Our position is that this was an accident,” he said.

To convict Garcia-Zarate of second-degree murder, prosecutors must prove that he meant to hurt Steinle or others on the pier.

In other testimony last week, a firearms expert for the defense said the shooting had indicators of an accident. Jurors watched a grainy video of the pier in the hours before the shooting. Defense attorney Francisco Ugarte suggested that the gun could have been left by a group of people seen in the video standing around the seat that Garcia-Zarate would later occupy.

San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia will call at least one more witness today, Monday: a rebuttal witness whose testimony, the state believes, will contradict the defense witnesses. The jury then will hear closing arguments.

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