A distant security camera recorded the moment Kate Steinle fell to the ground on a San Francisco pier after an undocumented homeless man allegedly pointed a gun in her direction and pulled the trigger two years ago.
Jurors viewed the surveillance footage Wednesday afternoon in the trial of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a Mexican citizen charged with second-degree murder in connection with the killing on Pier 14.
The grainy video shows Steinle fall to the ground and Garcia Zarate walk away after throwing the gun in the water, according to the prosecution.
But Garcia Zarate and Steinle appear only as small figures in the footage that was shot from about a quarter-mile away at the San Francisco fireboat dock.
Prosecutor Diana Garcia showed footage in court Wednesday that recorded Garcia Zarate walking away from the scene. Garcia also called several San Francisco police officers to testify, including the diver who recovered the gun from the water.
Matt Gonzalez, an attorney for Garcia Zarate, said he did not see the defendant raise his hand to point a gun at Steinle in the video.
The central question in the trial is whether Garcia Zarate intended to shoot Steinle with the gun on July 1, 2015.
The bullet that struck her in the back ricocheted off the ground, and Gonzalez claims the handgun discharged on accident after Garcia Zarate found it wrapped up near the place he was sitting on the pier.
“You see the tremendous distance between where Mr. Garcia Zarate is seated and where Kate Steinle is hit with this bullet,” Gonzalez told reporters outside the courtroom. “That is a very key part of this because it impeaches much of what we know took place during the interrogation of Mr. Garcia Zarate.”
Police initially believed that Garcia Zarate was standing near the end of the pier when he shot Steinle and questioned him based on that assumption.
But Craig Dong, the officer who recovered the footage from the Port of San Francisco the day after the shooting, said Garcia Zarate sat in a chair near the middle of the pier for about half an hour before the shooting.
Gonzalez also said that police never believed Garcia Zarate when he told them he found the weapon, and as a result did not investigate whether someone could have left the gun on the pier.
Gonzalez claims the footage shows a group of people who may have put the gun down near the chair before Garcia Zarate sat there.
“We identified a group of six people gathered at that very seat for a long time picking up, putting down things,” Gonzalez said.
Dong, who specializes in video forensics, admitted in court that he did not pay close attention to the footage before Garcia Zarate walked onto the pier.
The prosecution also showed footage of Garcia Zarate ambling down the Embarcadero after the shooting. At one point, Dong pointed out that Garcia Zarate sifted through a trash can.
Gonzalez has argued that Garcia Zarate is someone who would dig through trash or pick up a wrapped object on a pier like the gun that killed Steinle.
The footage also showed Officer Andrew Bryant arrest Garcia Zarate at Embarcadero and Townsend Street.
“He immediately complies with the police when they roll up,” Gonzalez told reporters. “There’s just no issue about that.”
But Bryant told a different story in court Wednesday.
Bryant said he was driving his marked police car in search of the shooting suspect when he saw Garcia Zarate sitting near Java House at Pier 40.
“When we finally made eye contact — we call it like a deer in headlight — his eyes got big,” Bryant said in court.
Bryant said Garcia Zarate stood up and started walking away before he pulled over and pointed his weapon at the defendant.
“I said ‘stop,’ and he kind of just looked at me and continued to walk,” Bryant said, adding that Garcia Zarate then laid on the ground.
Bryant then searched and handcuffed Garcia Zarate. About 45 minutes later, Bryant said he put bags over Garcia Zarate’s hands to preserve any gunshot residue as evidence of the shooting.
The crime lab later recovered just one particle of gunshot residue on his hands compared to 18,000 particles of crackers on his hands from the food he had eaten earlier, according to Gonzalez.
Gonzalez suggested the gunshot residue particle could have been transferred from an officer or the patrol car he was placed in.
Meanwhile, the police diver who found the pistol Garcia Zarate threw into the pier testified Wednesday that the gun was wedged between a boulder and concrete in the murky Bay waters.
Scott Hurley, a San Francisco police officer on the Underwater Hazardous Device team, said in court that he crawled along the ocean floor through silt and old wooden piers until he touched the handgun.
“I held it up to the front of my face,” said Hurley, but water was too murky to see the weapon. “I climbed up onto a rock holding the gun and stretched my arm out as far as I could to try and get some light.”
That’s when Hurley knew what he had discovered. The officer and his partner placed the weapon in a plastic box and brought it to the surface, where it would later be tested at the police crime lab.
Though Gonzalez claims the gun was wrapped up in clothing, Hurley testified he did not find a rag at the bottom of the Bay when he found the weapon covered in silt.
Hurley did say that he could not see more than three inches in front of his face and was diving in zero visibility.
“It was just the gun by itself,” he said.
But Gonzalez pointed out during cross examination that Hurley was not searching for the cloth in which the gun may have been wrapped.
“You are not testifying that you were doing a search for any cloth?,” Gonzalez asked.
“Correct,” Hurley said.
Garcia also introduced photographs into evidence showing the divers recovering the weapon the day after the killing.
Garcia Zarate is facing a second-degree murder charge and two other felonies. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeink