Feds rebut claims of ‘collusion’ with state prosecutor in Kate Steinle trial

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, center, is led out of the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, right, and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia, left, after his arraignment at the Hall of Justice on July 7, 2015, in the waterfront shooting death of 32-year-old Kate Steinle in San Francisco.

Federal prosecutors denied accusations last week that the U.S. government colluded with the state prosecutor who tried the Kate Steinle case, pointing to comments from President Donald Trump as evidence to the contrary.

The accusations stem from the federal prosecution of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an undocumented immigrant who was acquitted in November of murder and manslaughter for Steinle’s death, but also found guilty of illegal gun possession.

Federal attorneys filed two gun charges against Garcia Zarate in December after Trump called the verdict “disgraceful.”

Defense attorneys J. Tony Serra and Maria Belyi have since asked a judge to toss the charges, arguing that the federal government was “critically involved” in the state prosecution and therefore cannot try Garcia Zarate again on a gun charge.

But Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shiao Lee and Hallie Hoffman fired back in court filings last Tuesday, arguing that “if there was cooperation or coordination between federal and state authorities, it was not ‘very close,’ let alone collusive.”

“Garcia Zarate proffers no facts that suggest that California’s prosecution was in fact a sham or cover for the federal government, and that California was acting as a mere proxy for the federal government,” prosecutors said.

Defense attorneys also argue the prosecution is vindictive — fueled by Trump’s scorn for a man he once called an “animal.”

In their March 13 argument, Serra and Belyi also cited quotes from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice, who both slammed San Francisco for being a sanctuary city.

But prosecutors said those same comments “undermine” the collusion theory and “indicate the independence of [and even policy disagreements between] federal and state authorities.”

“They highlight the state’s independent prosecution of the case and the federal government’s separate interest, which the state prosecution did not vindicate,” the prosecutors said.

Serra and Belyi are seeking further evidence to prove the federal government already assisted the prosecutor in the state trial. They use the participation of two federal attorneys in the Steinle trial to argue their case.

An assistant U.S. attorney and an attorney with the Department of the Interior sat with the state prosecutor when a federal ranger took the witness stand. The ranger’s gun was stolen from a vehicle in San Francisco and used to kill Steinle.

Serra and Belyi claim the attorneys had control over “the scope and light in which he was questioned,” but the prosecutors said neither of the attorneys were federal criminal prosecutors and neither has played a role in the federal case.

“They attended the state trial to protect the civil interests of the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management in civil proceedings arising from [Steinle’s] death,” the prosecutors said.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria will hear the motions April 24.

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