A jury has been selected to hear the trial of an undocumented homeless man accused of fatally shooting a woman on a San Francisco pier two years ago after he was released from County Jail.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a Mexican citizen previously known as Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, is charged with murder for allegedly shooting 32-year-old Kate Steinle while she walked on Pier 14 with her father on July 1, 2015.
After cycling through dozens of potential jurors for three days, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Samuel K. Feng and attorneys for the prosecution and defense settled on a panel of 12 jurors Wednesday morning.
The jurors, six men and six women who work in a range of careers from the tech industry to engineering to nursing, have not been identified in court to protect the integrity of the trial.
“We have at least three of the jurors who are natives of other countries,” Matt Gonzalez, an attorney for the defendant, said after court. “We have a wide array of educational background from Ph.D. to high school level. There’s a lot of very interesting people who could be thoughtful.”
During the three days of jury selection, Feng and attorneys on both sides have made efforts to separate the trial from politics. President Donald Trump pointed to the killing while condemning undocumented immigrants during his presidential campaign.
Feng has said that politics and the immigration status of Garcia Zarate are not an issue in the trial.
On Wednesday afternoon, the judge and attorneys selected five alternate jurors to hear the trial. The alternate jurors are four men and one woman including an entrepreneur who co-founded a solar company, a city clerk and a data scientist.
The jurors were chosen out of a pool of more than 100 who crowded into a stuffy courtroom at the Hall of Justice each day as Garcia Zarate listened to the proceedings in Spanish through a translator.
“Have you ever experienced things being lost in translation?” Gonzalez asked the nurse before she was selected as a juror.
Gonzalez has previously suggested that Garcia Zarate did not understand his Miranda rights when police interrogated him after the incident.
Gonzalez also asked a potential juror who has eight roommates and was later chosen if he could vote against the majority. The jury needs to reach a unanimous decision to convict Garcia Zarate.
“If you reached a decision … but they did not persuade you, would you be comfortable saying ‘I’m not in agreement?’” Gonzalez asked.
Gonzalez is expected to argue that the killing was accidental. The bullet that struck Steinle in the back ricocheted from the ground — a shot that Gonzalez says a firearms expert could not intentionally replicate.
But Diana Garcia, the prosecutor, has charged Garcia Zarate with murder, assault with a semi-automatic weapon and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Garcia is expected to show jurors a police interrogation of Garcia Zarate during which he confessed to using the weapon.
Garcia had concerns Wednesday about a potential juror whose sister was the same age and has the same first name as Steinle.
“Is that going to make it impossible for you to be a juror in this case?” Garcia asked before the person was excused.
Also at issue is where the firearm came from. The weapon was stolen from the vehicle of a Bureau of Land Management ranger near Fisherman’s Wharf. Garcia Zarate is not charged with the auto burglary.
The judge is scheduled to hear opening statements in the trial next Monday.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from its original version to include additional information.