Witnesses called to testify Tuesday in the killing of Kate Steinle described the strange behavior of the undocumented homeless man accused of opening fire on the pier two years ago.
Michelle Lo, a tourist who was visiting San Francisco on July 1, 2015, testified that Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was spinning on a chair and laughing on Pier 14 before the shooting.
“He was just looking at the people and turning ‘round and ‘round in that chair,” Lo testified in court through a Cantonese interpreter. “He looked at everybody who walked past him.”
“I saw him grinning,” she added.
Lo was one of three witnesses who placed Garcia Zarate at the crime scene during testimony Tuesday. Prosecutor Diana Garcia also called the crime scene investigator to the stand.
The testimony came a day after jurors in San Francisco Superior Court heard opening statements in the murder trial. The central question is whether Garcia Zarate intended to fire the weapon that killed Steinle on the pier.
Garcia Zarate, a Mexican citizen also known as Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, is charged with second-degree murder and two other felonies.
The case has drawn national attention because President Donald Trump used the killing during his presidential campaign to call for a border wall with Mexico.
ON THE PIER
It was a cool summer day when Lo strolled the pier with her sons, sister and nephew, snapping photos and admiring the view.
Lo testified on Tuesday that she saw a man dressed in black sitting on the pier, watching passersby.
“When you walked by he would just look at you, he would grin and just spin in the chair,” Lo said.
Lo snapped a picture of her sister that is said to show Garcia Zarate sitting in the background as Steinle walks by.
Lo said she was standing out on the pier when someone screamed.
“I heard a scream, a very sharp scream, as though someone was in fright like, ‘Oh my God,’” Lo said. “I saw the woman on the ground.”
Though she testified that she saw Garcia Zarate’s face, defense attorney Matt Gonzalez raised questions as to whether she actually did.
“I saw him physically that day, and then I saw him on television, that’s why I can remember what he looked like,” Lo said.
But Gonzalez said that Lo told the police after the shooting that “‘I am not familiar with their kind of faces.’”
“‘I only know the black color,” Gonzalez said Lo told police. “He is black.”
Maria Moreno and Aryn Carpenter were visiting San Francisco from the Central Valley when they heard a gunshot from their hotel room and ran to the window.
“I saw one man walking away,” said Moreno, a third-grade teacher who testified in court Tuesday.
Moreno and Carpenter were staying on the fifth floor of the Hotel Griffon across from Pier 14. Both testified that Garcia Zarate caught their attention.
“He was leaving the area and it seemed to be in an urgent manner,” Moreno said. “He had a scowl on his face.”
The witnesses both took pictures of the man said to be Garcia Zarate walking along the Embarcadero, which they shared with police immediately after the shooting.
“He seemed to be the only person trying to leave the pier,” Carpenter said. “It looked like he was behaving odd. His behavior, it did not instinctually feel right to me.”
Gonzalez pointed out that another woman also walked off the pier right after the shooting. However, the woman apparently was calling 911.
Officer Raymond Ortiz, a 14-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department, testified on Tuesday that he was the crime scene investigator in the case.
Garcia showed jurors a silent 20 minute video of Ortiz walking the stretch of the pier as the sun set after the shooting, documenting the crime scene.
The video showed pools of dried blood where Steinle was shot.
Gonzalez told reporters after court that the video showed just how far Steinle was from Garcia Zarate when the gun went off.
Ortiz is expected to testify further Wednesday morning.