San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon on Tuesday said responsibility for any failure in the prosecution of the undocumented immigrant acquitted of murder in the death of Kate Steinle is “mine and mine alone.”
A jury vindicated Jose Ines Garcia Zarate of guilt in the killing last Thursday after the prosecution raised the stakes in the trial and asked jurors to believe Garcia Zarate went to Pier 14 in search of a victim to kill on July 1, 2015.
Critics have since claimed Gascon made a wrong turn when the prosecution pivoted toward a first-degree murder conviction at the end of the trial instead of the second-degree murder conviction the DA initially sought.
But Gascon defended the strategy on Tuesday during his first news conference after the jury’s verdict.
“We felt and we still do that we had evidence of a murder case,” Gascon told reporters at the Hall of Justice. “If we had a similar case presented to us today, we would proceed much in the same way as we did in this case.”
He added, “If there is any blame to go around, it’s all mine.”
The District Attorney’s Office began the case by filing a blanket murder charge against Garcia Zarate while publicly arguing outside the courtroom for a second-degree murder conviction.
But then while deciding jury instructions near the end of the trial, prosecutor Diana Garcia asked Judge Samuel K. Feng to instruct the jury on multiple theories of homicide including first-degree murder, second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.
“The theory of our case was always an implied malice case, which leads to second-degree murder,” Gascon said. “As the trial progressed and there was additional evidence presented, the court agreed and felt that there was sufficient evidence to provide first-degree murder, and we agreed to do so.”
Garcia proceeded to argue during closing arguments that Garcia Zarate deliberately chose Steinle while playing a “secret” version of Russian roulette on the pier.
Gascon’s comments come amid questions about whether the verdict will impact Gascon’s political career. Gascon, who has never prosecuted a case on his own, is up for reelection in 2019.
“I can’t imagine that a single outcome of a case that was tried so well just because the outcome was not the desired outcome, that that is going to dictate the direction of my election,” Gascon said. “At the end of the day that’s really for the people to decide, not for me.”
The verdict drew outrage from President Donald Trump and right-wing media. The president called the decision “disgraceful.”
“It’s important for the president of the U.S. to remember this is a nation of laws,” Gascon said. “We respect the legal process even when the outcome is one that we may not be happy with.”
The entire city of San Francisco also became a punching bag on Twitter by people who said The City is no longer a place to safely visit.
In response to the “hatemongers,” Gascon said San Francisco is one of the safest cities in the nation and the District Attorney’s Office has a 90 percent conviction rate year-to-date.
Garcia Zarate was acquitted of all charges except for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Defense attorneys said Monday they would appeal the conviction.
A status hearing is scheduled in the trial for Dec. 14.
Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeink