A murder case that helped fuel Donald Trump's call for a border wall ended in an acquittal on Thursday when a San Francisco jury found undocumented immigrant Jose Ines Garcia Zarate not guilty in the shooting death of 32-year-old Kate Steinle, the Washington Post reports.
Garcia Zarate had been deported from the US to Mexico five times and was due for a sixth deportation—on a 20-year-old marijuana charge—three months before Steinle was shot. After being released from jail in March 2015 under San Francisco's sanctuary city policies, Garcia Zarate allegedly shot Steinle in the back with a stolen US Bureau of Land Management gun while she was walking along one of the city's piers with her dad.
Prosecutors in Steinle's case argued Garcia Zarate used the stolen pistol to intentionally fire into a crowd on San Francisco's Pier 14, killing Steinle. The defense insisted Garcia Zarate had stumbled across the gun, which was cloaked in cloth, and accidentally set it off while he was unwrapping it, sending a bullet ricocheting off the ground before it struck Steinle.
The jury exonerated Garcia Zarate, 45, of murder, manslaughter, and assault with a firearm Thursday, though he was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, the New York Times reports. President Trump—who made Steinle's death a centerpiece of his anti-immigration platform—condemned the verdict just hours after it was handed down, calling it "disgraceful."
Trump and other leading Republicans have used Steinle's death as ammunition in their war on illegal immigration, sanctuary cities, and the fight for a border wall. In a 2016 speech, Trump called her one of "countless Americans" who "would be alive today if not for the open border policies of [Obama's] administration." Republicans in the House even passed a bill named after Steinle—"Kate's Law"—that would strengthen penalties for convicted criminals who enter the US illegally, though it never made it through the Senate.
Garcia Zarate could serve anywhere from 16 months to three years for unlawful possession of a firearm—and potentially even more time if the Justice Department makes good on its promise to file federal charges against him. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has vowed to deport Garcia Zarate, and Trump said he'll continue to hammer away at the Steinle case as an issue in the 2020 race, whether her family supports him or not.
"If you're going to use somebody's name and you're going to sensationalize the death of a beautiful young lady, maybe you should call and talk to the family first and see what their views are," Kate's brother, Brad Steinle, told CNN in 2015. "I don't want to be affiliated with someone who doesn't have the common courtesy to reach out and ask about Kate, and our political views and what we want."
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Related: Murder at America's Border: The Story of an Anti-Immigration Vigilante