SAN FRANCISCO — The trial of a man charged with murdering a woman with Greenville ties began Monday. Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, 54, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, set off a national debate about illegal immigration and “sanctuary cities” after shooting and killing Kate Steinle, 32, in San Francisco on July 1, 2015.
Jim Steinle, Kate’s father, testified Monday, saying he and a family friend were visiting his daughter when the shooting occurred. Steinle said he initially didn’t know what was happening when his daughter collapsed in his arms.
“I couldn’t figure out what was wrong,” Steinle told the court, according to CBS News reports. Kate’s mother and brother also attended the proceeding.
As previously reported by The Daily Advocate, Steinle was struck in the chest by a bullet while visiting Pier 14 on the Embarcadero. The shot pierced her aorta. She was subsequently rushed to San Francisco General Hospital, where she died in her parents’ arms a few hours later.
Steinle’s mother, Joan (Sullivan) Steinle, attended St. Mary’s Catholic School in Greenville and graduated from Greenville High School in 1964. Her father attended North School and graduated in 1965.
Joan Steinle described her daughter as a “sweet, beautiful, independent, strong-willed woman” who enjoyed traveling and doing charity work, including hosting a fundraising dinner for patients with multiple sclerosis.
Zarate’s lawyer, Matt Gonzalez, claims Zarate fired the gun accidentally, having found it sitting under a bench and wrapped in a t-shirt. He allegedly picked up the bundle without even realizing there was a gun inside. Deputy District Attorney Diana Garcia, meanwhile, argued the gun used in the shooting is a reliable weapon that could not have been fired accidentally in such a manner.
Steinle’s death set off renewed debates about illegal immigration, as Zarate had been deported five times, with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump citing her story as a reason to crack down on immigration. According to a report by USA Today, Zarate has been in trouble with the law since 1991, with seven nonviolent felony convictions on his record, four of them drug-related.
Zarate was homeless and living in San Francisco when he shot Steinle, and had recently completed a four-year prison term for illegally reentering the country following his last deportation. He was due to stand trial on a marijuana charge shortly before the shooting, but was released by county sheriff’s deputies after the charge was dropped, despite federal authorities having requested he be detained for deportation.
This was in accordance with San Francisco’s “sanctuary” policy, which, according to the city’s website, “prohibits city employees from using city funds or resources to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the enforcement of federal immigration law, unless such assistance is required by federal or state law.” According to data published by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, over 20 states have either statewide or city-specific sanctuary policies, including California, New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.
Zarate has been charged with second-degree murder, which could result in a sentence of 15 years to life if convicted. His trial is expected to last several weeks.