No verdict was announced Tuesday in the trial of the homeless illegal immigrant charged with killing Kate Steinle on a pier in San Francisco in 2015. The jury was given the case to determine whether Steinle's slaying was part of a sick game or an accident.
The defense finished their closing arguments at the murder trial of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, in which defense attorney Matt Gonzalez urged the jurors to make their own judgements about what happened that day on the pier and not be swayed by the prosecution’s argument or other juror’s beliefs.
He stressed that what happened to Steinle was simply an awful accident and nothing could change that. He told jurors that trying to render a verdict based on how awful the incident was is “not your job.”
Deputy District Attorney Diana Garcia made a quick rebuttal, in which she described the defense’s version of the events as pure fiction and questioned why witnesses would be inclined to lie.
She also argued that nobody knows why Zarate went to the pier that day but it’s clear, she said, that he wanted to fire at people.
“There’s no reason that gun went off other than this defendant decided to pull the trigger,” Garcia told the jury.
She said Steinle was simply “the closest target” in Zarate’s line of fire and he should be held responsible for taking the life of a “young, vibrant, beautiful, cherished woman.”
In Monday’s closing arguments, Garcia told jurors Zarate deliberately shot a stolen gun towards Steinle while "playing his own secret version of Russian roulette."
As prosecutors detailed the events of July 1, 2015, Steinle's parents, Jim and Liz, wiped away tears as Garcia described "a vibrant life that was taken from us." Steinle died in her father's arms.
She also cited testimony from one witness who said the 54-year-old appeared to be smiling or laughing to himself as evidence that he had decided in advance to shoot someone.
The DA also disputed the argument by Zarate's defense team that the semi-automatic handgun stolen from a federal Bureau of Land Management ranger a week before the shooting “just fired." Garcia reiterated evidence the gun was left in double action mode, and a trigger would have had to be pulled for it to fire.
Jurors will consider if Jose Ines Garcia Zarate killed Kate Steinle at a San Francisco pier by accident or while playing a sick game. (AP)
The bullet ricocheted on the pier's concrete walkway before it struck Steinle, killing her. Zarate has admitted to shooting Steinle, but says it was an accident.
Defense attorney Matt Gonzalez took a less dramatic, much more meticulous approach in his closing arguments, telling jurors prosecutors were pushing a "wild narrative of a desire to hurt someone he does not know."
Jim Steinle, center, and Liz Sullivan, right, the parents of Kate Steinle, walk to a court room for closing arguments. (AP)
The defense has said Zarate found the gun wrapped in a shirt under a chair on the pedestrian pier and it went off by accident when he picked it up.
KATE STEINLE TRIAL FEATURES DEMONSTRATION OF HOW SUSPECT COULD’VE CONCEALED MURDER WEAPON
Gonzalez told jurors that Zarate didn’t know Steinle and had no reason to want to hurt her. Since it was also not a point blank-shot, Gonzalez asked the jury, “Can you say he put his finger on the trigger and pulled it because he wanted to do her harm?”
Matt Gonzalez, second from left, chief attorney of the San Francisco Public Defenders Office, walks to a courtroom. (AP)
He also argued the case should have only been charged as manslaughter, and the only question should have been if it was manslaughter, or not guilty based on an accident. He reiterated to jurors the evidence does not support the prosecution’s “wild narrative” that he’d want to hurt someone he doesn’t know.
Steinle's killing took on political overtones because Garcia Zarate is a Mexican citizen who had been deported five times and served federal prison time for illegally re-entering the United States. He had been released from the San Francisco jail about three months before the shooting, despite a request by federal immigration authorities to detain him for further deportation proceedings.
KATE STEINLE TRIAL: POLICE TESTIFY BULLET RICOCHETED, KILLED WOMAN IN SAN FRANCISCO
While Zarate’s immigration status is what brought the case into the national spotlight, jurors did not hear evidence about that, and it will not be a factor in the trial.
Steinle’s death became a signature issue for Donald Trump as he was running for president. He invoked the slaying in calling for the construction of a wall on the Mexican border.
In this July 17, 2015 file photo, flowers and a portrait of Kate Steinle remain at a memorial site. (San Francisco Chronicle via AP)
San Francisco is a sanctuary city, with local law enforcement officials barred from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. President Trump has threatened to withhold federal funding to cities with similar immigration policies, but a federal judge in California on Monday permanently blocked his executive order.
Fox News' Jennifer Girdon in San Francisco and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The state offers 147 beds to unaccompanied immigrant youths.
When young people turn 18, they are released from the facilities, some into adult detention centers, others to family members. In some cases, homeless shelters become their only refuge as they apply for asylum or special visas.
Today, Jorge and Oscar are both 18, with no family to house them and no criminal histories that would warrant a transfer to a detention facility.
They arrived in June at Solid Ground, a nonprofit youth homeless shelter in Humboldt Park, where they will most likely remain until a decision is made on their applications for immigration relief. The process can take years.
With the help of local advocates and lawyers working pro bono, Jorge is seeking asylum, citing family abuse and the pressure and influence of gang recruitment in Honduras. Oscar applied for a visa for victims of human trafficking, claiming eligibility because he was exploited as a migrant farm worker.
While they wait, Oscar and Jorge must stay close for court-ordered interviews and proceedings that they hope will allow them to remain in this country. Both asked to be identified only by their first names for fear of jeopardizing their cases.
The handful of people in Chicago who work with young homeless immigrants — who come mainly from Central America, Mexico, Africa, India and China — say such young people are often neglected.
“It’s been very challenging to find spaces for these kids,” said Jennifer Nagda, the associate director of Chicago’s Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. “There is not exactly a wealth of beds to begin with for the domestic population, let alone unaccompanied youth.”
Sol Flores, executive director of La Casa Norte, the nonprofit organization that operates Solid Ground, said she was surprised by the increasing number of undocumented youths at the shelter. “We never thought we would have a young person who was brought to this country from Sudan and abandoned by his caretaker,” she said.
Advocates say young, homeless immigrants typically come to the United States to seek work, reconnect with family or flee persecution, abuse or violence.
Susan Trudeau, the executive director of child welfare programs at Heartland Human Care Services, operator of the four Illinois facilities for unaccompanied immigrant youths, said she had seen an increase in the number of young people fleeing Central American gangs.
“They are being recruited; their families are being threatened,” she said. “They are being threatened. So it is just easier to run away.”
Fleeing such gangs one night in the winter of 2009, Jorge took along his 6-year-old cousin, Eric, who longed to reunite with his mother, who was working in the United States. The cousins began a monthlong, nearly 4,000-mile journey from Honduras — first by bus, then by freight train and finally on foot.
When Jorge left, his backpack held a change of clothes for him and his cousin and enough money for bus fare and some food, he said. After taking the bus to Guatemala, they began the most treacherous part of the trek: illegally riding on the tops and sides of freight trains that snaked through Guatemala and into Mexico.
For five days they walked along the tracks, following them to the station where the train originated. When it finally came, he and hundreds of other would-be migrants sprang from the tall grass that hid them and clambered aboard. To keep Eric safe, Jorge carried his cousin on his back and placed his backpack over the boy, effectively strapping him in as they jumped on and off the moving trains, he said.
After two weeks, they arrived in Mexico and found a man willing to take them across the border into the United States.
They walked for seven days, barely sleeping and sharing food among the other migrants.
“We would stop to rest,” Jorge said. “But not for too long because it was so cold out and we knew we had to keep moving to stay warm. When we did stop and sit for a while, no one slept. We just sat quietly near each other.”
When he arrived in the United States, Eric went to live with his mother nearby in Arizona. Jorge, with limited English, no visa and no family, said he began supporting himself by dealing drugs — cocaine and heroin.
He was eventually arrested in Colorado, taken into federal custody and sent to the Illinois Children’s Center, one of the four Illinois detention facilities for immigrant youths. Jorge remained at the low-security center for seven months. When he turned 18, he was required to wear a GPS monitoring anklet as a condition of his release to Solid Ground.
Oscar’s sojourn began on the evening of July 28, 2008. After hugging his family goodbye, he left alongside his 16-year-old cousin, Victor.
The coyote his family enlisted to enable his journey cost them 18,000 pesos, roughly $1,700 at the time, money his father borrowed from a family friend, Oscar said.
“Take care of yourself and call us when you get to the border,” he recalled his mother saying apprehensively as he left, with a few hundred pesos in his pocket, to board a bus bound for Sonora, Mexico, a border state. From there, he walked for seven days and six nights through Mexico toward Arizona.
By the third day in the desert under the August sun, Oscar’s backpack, once heavy with canned vegetables, water, Gatorade and fresh tortillas, was empty except for water. His iPod, filled with music by Intocable, a popular Norteño band, had no charge for its battery. He walked three more days with no food before crossing, penniless, into Arizona.
Oscar soon found migrant farm work, traveling with two friends to wherever the crops were: watermelons in Delaware and Georgia, apples in Pennsylvania, oranges in Florida.
But the conditions were exploitative, he said. According to an affidavit filed with his relief application, Oscar was not paid regularly and not allowed to leave the work camps. His employers said immigration authorities would find him if he fled. Oscar was not fed adequately and was forced to sleep on the floor without blankets, his social worker said.
“When I came here, my only objective was to work,” Oscar said. “I wasn’t thinking about finishing school or learning English. I came to work.”
In May 2010, after an altercation with an employer over unpaid wages, Oscar said, he was arrested and taken into federal custody in Georgia. After detention at a youth facility in Miami, he was released that fall to an uncle in Champaign, Ill. But soon after Oscar arrived, his uncle returned to Mexico because he feared that Oscar’s presence might draw attention to his illegal status, Oscar said.
Last May the Office of Refugee Resettlement confirmed Oscar’s eligibility as a victim of labor trafficking. This status should help Oscar obtain his visa, his lawyer said. According to the department’s annual report, 91 youths received such letters in 2010, up from 50 the previous year.
Since arriving at La Casa Norte, Oscar and Jorge fill their days with G.E.D. and English classes.
Over the winter Oscar received a work visa and is employed part time at a Mexican restaurant on Chicago’s Northwest Side.
Jorge, still awaiting work papers, spends his time drawing, painting murals and playing soccer. But if the ball hits his ankle, it sets off the monitoring device, forcing him report to immigration officials.
Despite his arrest, detention and homelessness, Jorge said he would make the journey to the United States again. The country has fewer gangs and less violence than his homeland.
Oscar, though, said he regretted coming to the United States He is thankful for the opportunities, but if he knew then what he knows now, he said, he would still call Mexico home.
They phone home every few weeks. Yet neither Oscar nor Jorge has seen his family since walking away.Continue reading the main story