Immigrant acquitted in Steinle killing sentenced on gun charge

San Francisco Pier Shooting
FILE – In this July 17, 2015, file photo, flowers and a portrait of Kate Steinle remain at a memorial site on Pier 14 in San Francisco. Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a homeless undocumented immigrant acquitted of killing Kate Steinle on a San Francisco pier, was sentenced Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, to time served for illegal gun possession.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A Mexican man acquitted of murder in the shooting death of a San Francisco woman that sparked a national immigration debate was sentenced Friday to time served for illegal gun possession.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng also denied a defense request to give Jose Ines Garcia Zarate a new trial for his conviction of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Garcia Zarate will now be taken into federal custody to face two gun possession charges in federal court.

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department said it would hold Garcia Zarate in its jail until U.S. marshals pick him up. Garcia Zarate’s lawyer Tony Serra said he expects a transfer this weekend.

Serra also said he plans to inject as much politics as he can into his defense of Garcia Zarate in federal court, a marked departure from the tactic his state court lawyers took to insulate the San Francisco jury from any mention of his immigration status and the nationwide debate around it.

During the presidential campaign, President Trump pointed to Steinle’s death as a reason to build a wall along the Mexican border and tighten immigration policies. The president has also threatened to withhold federal funding to cities with sanctuary city policies.

“A vote for guilty in the federal case is a vote for Trump,” Serra said outside court Friday.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said he was pleased with the sentence and declined to comment on the federal charges.

Federal prosecutors charged Garcia Zarate with two gun possession violations after a San Francisco jury acquitted him of murder in the shooting death of Kate Steinle on a San Francisco pier in July 2015.

Garcia Zarate was sentenced to three years in jail for the state conviction. He has been in San Francisco’s jail since July 1, 2015, and with credit for time served, he fulfilled the term of his three-year sentence, the judge ruled.

He had previously been convicted of illegally reentering the United States and been deported five times before Steinle was fatally shot. The San Francisco sheriff’s department released him from jail several weeks before the shooting, ignoring a request from federal immigration officials to detain him for a sixth deportation.

His lawyers said he has served a total of 17 years in federal prisons for three illegal reentry convictions.

San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” policy bars local officials from helping federal immigration authorities in deportation matters unless they have a warrant. Trump pointed to the shooting during his presidential campaign as another reason to build a wall along the Mexican border and tighten immigration policies.

Garcia Zarate said he was sitting on a city pier when he found and picked up a gun wrapped in rags. His lawyer said he didn’t know it was a weapon until it accidentally fired, the bullet ricocheting off the pier’s concrete walkway and striking Steinle in the back.

San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi on Friday criticized federal prosecutors for adding the charges, which he called “ridiculous” and politically motivated.

“This is rarely done” after a defendant is acquitted on the same charge in a state court, Adachi said.