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Garcia Zarate declines to enter plea at first federal court hearing since acquittal in Steinle killing

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Defense attorney Tony Serra, right, and attorney Maria Belyi speak to reporters after Jose Ines Garcia Zarate appeared for the first time at the Phillip Burton Federal Building on two illegal gun possession charges Monday morning. (Michael Barba/S.F. Examiner)
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In his first federal court appearance Monday, the undocumented homeless man acquitted of murder and manslaughter in the death of Kate Steinle declined to enter a plea on two illegal gun possession charges.

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, 45, is facing federal charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm and being an undocumented immigrant in possession of a firearm after his acquittal in the Steinle trial Nov. 30.

On July 1, 2015, Garcia Zarate fired a bullet on Pier 14 that ricocheted and struck Steinle in the lower back. His defense attorneys in San Francisco Superior Court successfully argued the shooting was an accident.

Garcia Zarate walked into the courtroom Monday at the Phillip Burton Federal Building wearing a red jumpsuit from Glenn Dyer Jail in Alameda County. He introduced himself to Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James as 54-year-old Juan Jose Dominguez de la Parra — an alias he has used in previous cases.

James ordered Garcia Zarate to remain in custody without bail. He is expected to enter a plea at his next hearing Feb. 13 before Judge Vince Chhabria.

J. Tony Serra, Garcia Zarate’s attorney in federal court, is seeking to have the charges dismissed before heading to trial. Serra plans to file two motions to dismiss the case based on claims of vindictive prosecution and double jeopardy.

Serra said federal prosecutors charged Garcia Zarate as “revenge” for his acquittal in state court, which President Donald Trump called disgraceful.

Serra is also seeking to determine whether there was “collusion” between the District Attorney’s Office and federal authorities in the Steinle case to argue his double jeopardy claim.

Serra said he is seeking written or verbal communications between the DA and the U.S. Department of Justice to see if the federal government was “in the background directing strategy or trial tactics.”

“We hope that the administration of the executive here, guided by Trump’s political position, did interlope, did interfere because that would bolster our motion for double jeopardy,” Serra said.

During the Steinle trial, federal attorneys shared the bench with prosecutor Diana Garcia when a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger testified about how his gun was stolen and later used to shoot Steinle.

A spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on whether there was collusion with the federal government.

A San Francisco Superior Court judge sentenced Garcia Zarate to time served last Friday for being a felon in possession of a firearm — the only charge that the jury convicted him on in the Steinle trial.

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department released Garcia Zarate into the custody of a U.S. Marshall after his sentencing.

The U.S. Marshal had an amended criminal warrant for his arrest issued out of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas for violating his supervised release from an illegal re-entry case.

The matter was also taken up in court Monday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Shiao Lee said Garcia Zarate violated his supervised release when he committed a crime and failed to report to authorities after his release from custody.

Garcia Zarate was on supervised release when the Sheriff’s Department released him from in April 2015.

He was transferred to County Jail from a federal prison to face a 20-year-old marijuana charge in March 2015, but the District Attorney’s Office never pursued the charge.

James, the federal magistrate judge, ruled Monday that the matter would be handled after the gun possession charges.

Garcia Zarate is facing up to two years in prison for violating his supervised release.

The federal gun possession charges each carry up to a 10-year sentence.

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