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In-Depth Interview: Public Defenders Tell the Full Story of Politically Charged Case of Immigrant Accused of Killing Kate Steinle

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San Francisco public defenders Matt Gonzales and Francisco Ugarte explain how they won acquittal of all major charges for Jose Inez Garcia Zarate despite Trump’s demagoguery, local political wars, and media malpractice.  Francisco Ugarte is a deputy public defender in San Francisco, and head of the Immigration Unit.  Matt Gonzales was an elected member of the S.F. Board of Supervisors, and served as its president before an unsuccessful run for mayor in 2003.  He was Ralph Nader’s VP running mate in 2008, and began his second stint as a public defender in 2011.

On July 1, 2015 Kate Steinle and her father were strolling on a pier on San Francisco’s waterfront when a single bullet killed her.  Garcia Zarate had been sitting on a park bench when he found an object underneath, which turned out to be a loaded pistol wrapped in a t-shirt or cloth.  The gun discharged, and the bullet ricocheted off the sidewalk and found its way into Steinle’s back; she died later at a hospital.

This tragic accident occurred just 2 weeks after Trump announced his candidacy, based on immigrant-bashing.  The Steinle case quickly became national news, as we learned that the undocumented Garcia Zarate had been released from the San Francisco Jail, where he had been transferred from a federal prison in southern California after completing a sentence for unauthorized entry into the US. The feds sent him because of a 20-year-old warrant for a $20 marijuana deal, and when the local DA dismissed the case, he was released and was living on the street.  We saw many attacks on sanctuary policies and “liberal” San Francisco from people who knew very little about the case and the local politics.

Without waiting for an investigation, Trump and some local leaders concluded that Garcia Zarate had stolen the gun from the car of a federal agent and used it to murder Kate Steinle.  Ugarte and Gonzalez describe the toxic atmosphere and tabloid media coverage they faced as they explored the case.

In this detailed interview, the lawyers explain how they battled the judge and prosecutors; despite the acquittal, they detail many examples of how their client did not get a fair trial.  From unqualified translators to detectives who ignored the suspect’s Miranda rights, to inconsistent rulings by the judge that clearly favored the prosecution, this was an uphill battle all the way.

In the end, the jury rejected the overcharging by the prosecutor, and found Garcia Zarate not guilty of first and second degree murder as well as manslaughter.  They found him guilty of being a felon in possession of a weapon, but Gonzales explains the strong appeal they have filed on that issue.

You can read the comments by an alternate juror that we refer to here.