Prosecutor in Steinle trial claims undocumented immigrant ‘intentionally’ fired gun

A San Francisco prosecutor on Monday claimed that an undocumented immigrant intended to fire a pistol at tourists on a pier two years ago when he allegeldy killed a 32-year-old woman named Kate Steinle.

Prosecutor Diana Garcia delivered her opening statement Monday morning to the jury in the San Francisco Superior Court trial of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a Mexican citizen also known as Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez.

SEE RELATED: Kate Steinle killing: Attorneys question jury pool on politics, gun control

“This is the gun that this man charged before you fired at a young woman named Kathryn Steinle,” Garcia claimed, holding up the semi-automatic pistol for the jury to see. “She’s dead because this man, this defendant… pointed this gun in her direction and pulled the trigger.”

Garcia Zarate is charged with murder for allegedly shooting Steinle in the back on July 1, 2015 while she walked with her father on Pier 14.

The case drew national attention when President Donald Trump pointed to the killing while calling for a crackdown on illegal immigration during his presidential campaign.

But all parties in the trial have told the jury to separate the political questions from the evidence in the case to ensure Garcia Zarate receives a fair trial.

Matt Gonzalez, an attorney for Garcia Zarate, is expected to argue that the shooting was accidental during his opening statement Monday afternoon.

The fatal bullet ricocheted off the ground before it struck Steinle, which Gonzalez has suggested is a shot that would be hard to intentionally replicate.

But Garcia said on Monday that a so-called skip shot is “a phenomenon that happens” when a shooter pulls the trigger before fully aiming at a target. She claimed that the police academy has taught officers how to perform the shot.

“He went to shoot people on Pier 14 and he ended up killing Kate Steinle,” Garcia said. “He knew all along what he was doing.”

After court, Gonzalez said Garcia was “conceding the biggest factual problem they have, which was the gun that discharged this bullet struck 78-feet away from Kathryn Steinle.”

Gonzalez has said that the gun was wrapped in clothing when it went off on accident while Garcia Zarate handled it.

Garcia, however, told jurors that the weapon would not discharge on its own.

Chief Public Defender Matt Gonzalez holds interviews outside the courtroom during a trial recess at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco, Calif. Monday, October 23, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

“The only way that a bullet will be fired is if the trigger is pulled,” Garcia said.

The weapon was stolen from the car of a Bureau of Land management ranger visiting San Francisco for the weekend on his way to an assignment in Montana.

The ranger left the weapon in a backpack underneath his seat June 27 when someone busted the window of his car across the street from Pier 5 and stole it.

“He has never known it to go off,” Garcia said. “It’s a very reliable, high-quality gun. It’s not the kind of gun that’s going to go off on accident.”

On Monday morning, Garcia Zarate sat in the courtroom between his lawyers, repeatedly tapping the wooden arm of his chair.

On the day of the shooting, police arrested him wearing a baggy sweatshirt and two layers of jeans.

In the courtroom he wore a collared shirt and listened to the proceedings through an interpreter in Spanish.

The filled gallery behind him included family of Kate Steinle and a representative of Mexico.

This is a breaking story. Check back later for updates.


Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeink