Jury picked in murder case that stoked immigration debate

By , on October 20, 2017


SAN FRANCISCO — A jury has been selected for the murder trial of a Mexican man whose case set off a national debate over U.S. sanctuary cities and immigration during last year’s presidential campaign after he was accused of shooting and killing a woman on a popular San Francisco pier.

Six women and six men were selected Wednesday for the trial of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate after jury candidates answered a 14-page questionnaire that probed their views about Latinos, immigration and guns.

Zarate, 54, is charged with murder in the shooting death of office worker Kate Steinle, 32, in July 2015. Opening arguments in the case are scheduled for Monday.

Steinle was on a summer evening’s stroll with her father on the pier crowded with pedestrians when she was shot. She collapsed into her father’s arm, whimpering “help me, Dad.” The bullet struck her heart and she died in her father’s arms.

Zarate had been deported five times and was homeless in San Francisco when he said he found a gun wrapped in a t-shirt underneath the bench he was sitting on.

He said the gun fired when he picked it up. A ballistic expert testified that the bullet ricocheted off the concrete pavement before fatally striking Steinle in the back.

The shooting touched off a political furor during the presidential campaign, with President Donald Trump referring to Steinle’s death in his campaign as a reason to toughen U.S. immigration policies.

The judge has prohibited the politics of gun control and immigration from Zarate’s trial.

Zarate acknowledged shooting Steinle but said the gun he was playing with on the pier accidentally discharged. The gun had been stolen from the car of a Bureau of Land Management ranger several days before the July 1, 2015 shooting.

Trump since being elected president has threatened to withhold federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities such as San Francisco, several of which have filed lawsuits to prevent the move.

The jurors who were selected said they did not have negative experiences or views of Latinos or people who have entered the country illegally that would prevent them from keeping an open mind.

“If you learned that a person had illegally entered the country, would you believe he was entitled to the same due process rights as a U.S. citizen?” asked one of the 62 questions posed to the jurors. Responses to the questionnaire were not made public.

Five jury alternates were also seated after being asked their opinion of San Francisco’s sanctuary city policy, which prohibits city officials from co-operating with federal immigration officials.

The jurors were also quizzed about their gun ownership and political views of firearms.

“We are very pleased with the jury,” said Matt Gonzalez, Zarate’s attorney. “We have such great diversity built in in San Francisco and I think we have a jury that understands a lot of the concerns about the defendant receiving a fair trial.”

San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia declined comment.