Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was acquitted of murder charges in the 2015 shooting of Kate Steinle. Photo by San Francisco Police Department
Nov. 30 (UPI) -- A jury found Jose Ines Garcia Zarate not guilty in the shooting of Kate Steinle in California in 2015.
Garcia Zarate, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, was acquitted of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and manslaughter charges, as well as assault with a deadly weapon, but found guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm on Thursday.
Prosecutors said Garcia Zarate, who was set to be deported for a sixth time when the shooting occurred, shot Steinle in the back as she and her father walked down Pier 14 of the San Francisco Bay on July 1, 2015. The defense said Garcia Zarate found the gun on the ground and accidentally fired it, causing the bullet ricochet off the ground and strike Steinle.
Garcia Zarate, who was previously identified by the alias Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, was released from a San Francisco jail under the city's sanctuary laws when a minor drug charged was dismissed in 2015, despite a federal request to hold him for deportation.
The case has become a talking point in the debate surrounding so-called sanctuary cities, which have written or unwritten policies against cooperating with retainer orders from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on civil or public safety grounds.
During his campaign, President Donald Trump referenced Steinle's death as an example of why cities like San Francisco should end their sanctuary policies.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a statement condemning the court's decision after the verdict.
"When jurisdictions choose to return criminal aliens to the streets rather than turning them over to federal immigration authorities, they put the public's safety at risk. San Francisco's decision to protect criminal aliens led to the preventable and heartbreaking death of Kate Steinle," Sessions said. "I urge the leaders of the nation's communities to reflect on the outcome of this case and consider carefully the harm they are doing to their citizens by refusing to cooperate with federal law enforcement officers."
Steinle's family, who didn't attend court to hear the decision said they were "saddened and shocked" by the verdict.
"There's no other way you can coin it. Justice was rendered, but it was not served," her father, Jim Steinle, said.
Defense attorney Francisco Ugarte said he hoped Steinle's family wouldn't "interpret this verdict as diminishing in any way the awful tragedy that occurred that their family has suffered."
He added the case "was used to foment hate" and "catapult the presidency."
"Today was a vindication for the rights of immigration," Ugarte said. "We have to reflect on how we talked about this case."