BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor
Despite what you may have read or seen elsewhere, the acquittal of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate on murder charges was hardly a surprise or a shock.
While the national media was searching for a fainting couch Thursday night when the verdict was read, those who followed the trial knew that there wasn’t any evidence presented that made this a case of first- or second-degree murder.
To prove first- or second-degree murder, the prosecution needed to show Garcia Zarate deliberately intended to commit murder. There was no evidence that he even knew the victim, Kate Steinle. If he was intending to kill her, he would had to have been a pretty good marksman to hit her with a ricochet shot.
He should have been convicted of involuntary manslaughter, which describes an unintentional homicide that occurs when somebody kills another person because of reckless conduct. The reckless conduct here was Garcia Zarate’s admitted mishandling of the gun.
The jury only convicted Garcia Zarate of one charge, possession of a firearm by a felon. That will probably result in a sentence equal to the time he has served prior to trial. It’s likely he’ll be released from jail at about the time he’s sentenced.
Perfect venue for the defense
One thing that made this murder trial unusual is that it was held in a city where there was a great deal of sympathy for the defendant.
Usually in a high-profile murder case, public opinion runs against the defendant. Before trial, the defense files a change of venue motion to have the trial moved to another city where there hasn’t been much news coverage of the case. The idea is that the defense wants unbiased jurors.
But San Francisco was an ideal location for the defense because residents have a high level of sympathy for illegal immigrants and they felt Garcia Zarate was being hounded by President Trump, a loathed figure in that city.
I doubt a jury in, say, Sacramento, Redding or Simi Valley would have reached the same verdict.
A Trump campaign issue
This case might have remained a local story if Trump had not made it a campaign issue. Garcia Zarate had been deported five times and was wanted for a sixth deportation when he shot Steinle in the back while walking with her father on the pier on July 1, 2015. Trump said that showed the United States needed a border wall.
And Trump argued that if San Francisco had not been a sanctuary city, then-sheriff Ross Mirkarimi would have contacted ICE about Garcia Zarate’s release from jail on a drug-dealing charge, and the illegal immigrant would have been deported instead being left on the streets to kill Steinle.
The jurors decided they wouldn’t talk to reporters after the trial, so we’re only left to wonder what they were thinking. I think it’s possible that they intended the verdict as a slap in Trump’s face.
If that’s the case, it’s unfortunate because it ignores the facts. While he shouldn’t have been convicted of murder, Garcia Zarate should have been convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sent to prison. The facts should still matter regardless of what Trump has to say about it.
Given the jury’s silence, the only message I get from this verdict is that life is cheap in San Francisco.
Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.