The former defense lawyers for an undocumented immigrant convicted of the 2015 killing of a woman on a San Francisco pier and whose case became a flashpoint in the immigration debate are asking President Biden to release him.
Jose Inez Garcia-Zarate still faces federal charges in the death of Kate Steinle, who died on July 1, 2015 after she was struck by a bullet that ricocheted off the pavement while walking with her father on Pier 45 off the Embarcadero. Garcia-Zarate was acquitted on murder and manslaughter charges in state court but convicted of being an ex-felon in possession of a gun.
The sole conviction was reversed by an appellate court, with a judge finding that the trial judge failed to give the jury the option of acquitting Garcia-Zarate on the theory he possessed the weapon for only a moment.
San Francisco Public Defender’s Office Chief Attorney Matt Garcia and Managing Attorney Francisco Ugarte, who represented Garcia-Zarate, said their client found a wrapped object but was unaware it contained a gun. The weapon was accidentally fired and the bullet ricocheted off the pavement and struck Steinle, they said.
In a post on Medium this week, the lawyers urged the Biden administration to release Garcia-Zarate, who they contend was prosecuted and remains in custody because of rhetoric from then-President Donald Trump and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions after he was acquitted of the most serious charges against him.
“Rather than evaluate the jury’s finding, Trump and Sessions rushed to keep Garcia Zarate in custody. Thus far, their efforts are working. What they could not change, however, is that Garcia Zarate is factually innocent of the charges, including the federal indictment alleging gun possession,” the wrote.
“Now is the time for the Biden administration to let the world know federal prosecutions will not be premised on lies and misinformation,” the post continued. “Like President Biden did with Trump’s litigation positions on the Affordable Care Act, voting rights, and sentence reductions under the First Step Act, he must reverse Trump’s position here.”
Fox News has reached to Tony Serra, Garcia-Zarate’s lawyer in the federal case.
The case became a flashpoint in the nationwide immigration debate and was a regular talking point during Trump’s Donald 2016 presidential campaign. Garcia-Zarate was in the U.S. illegally at the time of the killing and had been deported to his native Mexico five times.
It also put San Francisco’s sanctuary city policies under a microscope and prompted tougher immigration policies. Garcia-Zarate was slated to go to trial for the federal charges but a judge has expressed doubts about his mental capacity.
In August, a judge ordered him to undergo a mental health evaluation.
In their post, Gonzalez and Ugarte said the shooting occurred, not because of lax immigration policies, but because of a lack of gun control measures.
“This accidental shooting tragedy happened because we’re a country with over 400 million guns in private hands,” they said. “Should we be surprised that deaths result daily from this allegiance?”