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Defense in Kate Steinle trial claims surveillance footage supports accidental discharge

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A surveillance still shows a group of unidentified people gathered around a chair on Pier 14 where Jose Ines Garcia Zarate claims to have found the gun used to kill Kate Steinle on July 1, 2015. (Courtesy San Francisco Public Defender’s Office)
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Homicide investigators glossed over surveillance footage that corroborates the story of an undocumented homeless man who told police he found the gun used to kill Kate Steinle on a San Francisco pier, according to defense attorneys who argue the shooting was accidental.

The defense on Tuesday performed a second-by-second analysis of grainy surveillance footage that they said shows defendant Jose Ines Garcia Zarate bending over in a chair on Pier 14 moments before the shooting July 1, 2015.

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Garcia Zarate told police the gun went off when he found it wrapped in a rag near his seat on the pier. The most contentious issue in the murder trial is whether the shooting was intentional.

The video also showed a group of six unidentified people gathered around the chair for nearly half an hour before Garcia Zarate arrived on the pier. Police did not attempt to identify the individuals who are seen in the video before the shooting.

“It’s sloppy and unfortunately we’re the one putting forth that evidence,” Francisco Ugarte, an attorney for Garcia Zarate, said outside the courtroom. “It’s entirely likely that group of individuals discarded the weapon.”

Ugarte said homicide investigators did not believe Garcia Zarate when he told them about finding the gun during an interrogation after the shooting.

The gun was stolen from a Bureau of Land Management ranger who left the weapon unsecured in his luxury sports utility vehicle in San Francisco four days before the shooting. Police have yet to solve the auto burglary, but Garcia Zarate is not accused of stealing the gun.

Prosecutor Diana Garcia first presented the surveillance footage as evidence that Garcia Zarate shot Steinle earlier in the trial. Police collected the footage from the fireboat dock at Pier 22 ½, which is a quarter mile from Pier 14.

Paul Hiromi Endo, the president of litigation graphics firm Think Twice Inc., testified Tuesday about the video as a witness for the defense. Endo enhanced the high-definition video to zoom in on the pier and first showed jurors six figures who walked onto the pier and gathered around the chair where Garcia Zarate later sat.

Endo pointed out at least seven times in the video where he said a person bent down near the chair where Garcia Zarate allegedly found the weapon.

“There are instances where they appear to be bending at the waist just based on the outline and knowing that these are people,” Endo said in court.

“And that’s right at the seat that Mr. Garcia Zarate will be sitting in later?” asked Matt Gonzalez, an attorney for Garcia Zarate.

“Yes,” Endo said.

Endo said the group stayed on the pier for nearly 30 minutes and left half an hour before Garcia Zarate arrived.

“The activity of the individuals were not consistent with tourism,” Ugarte told reporters. “They appeared to be circling the seat looking down, bending down and it’s remarkably coincidental that the incident took place.”

In the half hour before Garcia Zarate arrived on the pier, Endo said the video shows one person sat in the chair and another person stood near the chair. The defense does not believe those individuals are related to the shooting.

Endo honed in on the moments before the shooting. He enhanced a small frame from the video that he said showed Garcia Zarate moving his legs and “bending over.”

The prosecution is expected to cross examine Endo on Wednesday morning.

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