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Closing arguments set to begin in Kate Steinle murder trial

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Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, right, is lead into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, left, and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia for arraignment on July 7, 2015. (Michael Macor/2015 San Francisco Chronicle via Pool)
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Attorneys in the Kate Steinle murder trial are scheduled to begin closing arguments today as jurors prepare to decide whether an undocumented man intended to fire the round that ignited a nationwide immigration debate.

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a 45-year-old homeless Mexican national, is accused of killing Steinle on a San Francisco pier on July 1, 2015. President Donald Trump has since used the killing to call for Congress to pass Kate’s Law, which would increase penalties for immigrants who repeatedly cross the border illegally.

But politics have not entered the courtroom in San Francisco, where jurors will soon deliberate on the moments that led up to the shooting. The jury must decide whether Garcia Zarate intended to pull the trigger or fired the gun on accident.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi, whose office is representing Garcia Zarate, said the jury will focus on the question of intent while deliberating on first-degree murder, second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter charges.

“Our focus is obviously on Mr. Garcia Zarate and what happens to him,” Adachi said. “The fact that you have these collateral consequences because of the case, we have our views on that and opinions on that, but it really comes down to what’s going to happen to him and is he going to face life imprisonment.”

Prosecutor Diana Garcia is expected to argue that Garcia Zarate intended to pull the trigger and discharge a bullet that ricocheted off the pier and struck Steinle in the lower back.

The prosecution has argued for a second-degree murder conviction throughout the trial but successfully requested of Judge Samuel K. Feng last week that jurors have the option to convict on first-degree murder.

Matt Gonzalez, a defense attorney for Garcia Zarate, is expected to lean on the fact that the bullet ricocheted during his closing argument to jurors. The defense claims the shooting was an accident that happened when Garcia Zarate picked up a stolen gun he found wrapped in a rag on the pier.

Gonzalez has also cast doubt on the level of criminal responsibility Garcia Zarate has in the killing by showing jurors evidence that a group of people gathered on the pier before the shooting.

The defense has speculated the unidentified individuals could have left the gun on the pier for Garcia Zarate to find.

Four days before the shooting, the gun was stolen from a federal ranger who left the weapon unsecured in a parked vehicle in San Francisco.

Garcia Zarate is not charged with auto burglary. In addition to murder or manslaughter, Garcia Zarate is facing counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm and assault with a semi-automatic firearm.

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