An illegal Mexican immigrant who was acquitted of murdering a woman on a California pier was sentenced to time served in his federal gun case and warned never to return to the U.S.
Jose Inez Garcia Zarate, 51, was sentenced to the seven years he’s already spent in jail on Monday after having previously plead guilty to weapons charges in the death of Kathryn ‘Kate’ Steinle.
Steinle, 32, was walking along a crowded San Francisco pier with her father and a family friend in July 2015 when she was shot in the back and killed.
Garcia Zarate admitted to holding the gun that killed Steinle but claimed it accidentally fired when he picked it up from under a bench. Officials said the bullet ricocheted off the ground and hit Steinle.
The shooting shocked a country already divided over immigration and fueled Donald Trump’s successful campaign for president. Trump called for a crackdown on unlawful immigration and the sanctuary cities and states – including San Francisco and California – that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
Garcia Zarate will now be transported to Texas where he faces federal charges for failing to report his location to immigration officials after he was released from a San Francisco jail shortly before the shooting. He had been deported five time and was on track to be removed from the country again when Steinle was shot.
He was acquitted in 2017 of various charges including murder, but federal prosecutors charged him with illegally possessing a firearm.
Jose Inez Garcia Zarate (pictured) was in the U.S. illegally when Kate Steinle, 32, was fatally shot along a crowded Pier 14 where she was walking with her father and a family friend
Garcia Zarate admitted firing the gun on July 4, 2015, but said he found it under a bench and didn’t know what it was when he picked it up because it was wrapped in a T-shirt. The gun fired accidentally after he picked it up, he said. Officials said the bullet ricocheted off the ground and hit Steinle (pictured)
The shooting (scene pictured) shocked a country already divided over immigration and fueled Donald Trump’s successful campaign for president
The federal weapons charges against Garcia Zarate had been pending for five years amid concerns about his ability to stand trial after two doctors had diagnosed him with schizophrenia.
However, Chhabria claimed the Bureau of Prisons ‘restored the defendant to competency’ last June.
During his sentencing Monday, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria told Garcia Zarate never to return to the U.S.
‘If you return to this country again and you are back in front of me, I will not spare you. Let this be your last warning: do not return to this country,’ Chhabria said before sentencing him to the time he has already served.
Garcia Zarate’s attorney told the courtroom that his client ‘feels horrible about what happened, and that he’s very sorry and apologizes.’
The judge said he does not believe that prosecutors proved that Garcia Zarate had acted with criminal recklessness in the shooting and that he likely did not understand what was happening that day when he killed Steinle, because of his mental health illness.
Chhabria also delivered a harsh rebuke of the mental health treatment received by Garcia Zarate for his schizophrenia while in custody, which the judge said was virtually nonexistent alleging he spent most of his seven years in county jail without medication or meaningful treatment.
‘That must have been hell,’ Chhabria said.
But the judge also said that consequences matter and that Garcia Zarate admitted being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Steinle’s relatives were not present in court for the sentencing and prosecutors said her family did not want to participate in the proceedings.
Their attorneys told DailyMail.com on Tuesday that the family was ‘not interested’ in commenting on the sentencing.
Garcia Zarate (pictured in 2015) had been deported five times and was on track to be removed from the U.S. again when he shot Steinle
Garcia Zarate had pleaded guilty in March 2022 to being in possession of the gun that killed Steinle.
The immigrant said he unwittingly picked up the gun wrapped in a T-shirt, and it fired accidentally, striking Steinle in her back and killing her on July 4, 2015. Her father later recounted her last words were: ‘Help me, Dad.’
He also pleaded guilty to being a person illegally in the country in possession of a firearm. The handgun belonged to a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger who reported it stolen from his parked car a week before Steinle was killed.
The maximum sentence on the firearms charges was 10 years. Prosecutors agreed to the sentence of time served plus three years of probation.
Garcia Zarate’s lawyers wanted a shorter sentence so he could apply any time left over in case the judge in Texas imposes additional prison time.
Garcia-Zarate (not pictured) admitted to picking up the gun that fired the shot that killed Steinle (left), but said it was accidental
Garcia Zarate (right) is led into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi (left) and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garciaor (center) for his arraignment in July 2015
At the time of the killing, Garcia-Zarate was homeless. He had already been deported from the U.S. five times to Mexico.
He had just completed a nearly four-year federal prison sentence for illegal re-entry to the U.S. when he was transferred to San Francisco to face a 20-year-old marijuana charge.
Prosecutors declined the case, but he was released from jail under San Francisco’s so-called sanctuary city policy despite a federal immigration request to detain him for at least two more days for deportation.
Garcia-Zarate was acquitted of murder by a San Francisco Superior Court jury in late 2017. But shortly after his acquittal, state and federal prosecutors charged him with two counts of illegal gun possession.
He was convicted in state court on a single gun possession charge, but it was overturned in 2019. Meanwhile, the gun possession charges were still pending in federal court.
A California state Court of Appeals overturned Garcia-Zarate’s conviction in August 2019 based on the failure of the state trial court to instruct the jury on the state’s affirmative defense of momentary possession, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The ruling had no legal effect on the federal prosecution, which had already been initiated.
Flowers and a portrait of Kate Steinle are seen at a memorial site on Pier 14 in San Francisco in this 2015 photo
The federal gun charges had been pending since 2017 after Chhabria raised concerns about Garcia-Zarate’s mental capacities.
Two doctors diagnosed Garcia-Zarate with schizophrenia and found him unfit to stand trial because he couldn’t follow the court proceedings.
In January 2019, Chhabria said Garcia-Zarate had previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia during a 2009 criminal proceeding in Texas and was prosecuted only after receiving medical treatment.
He also said Garcia-Zarate was given medication while he was held at the Glenn Dyer Jail in Oakland, but the treatment was ‘inexplicably terminated’ when he was transferred to the Santa Rita Jail.
One of the doctors reported to the court last month that Garcia-Zarate was competent to stand trial after regularly taking his medication.
On Monday, Chhabria asked Garcia-Zarate to summarize the charges against him as a way to confirm his competency.
‘The charges are because I was in the country illegally and I had a firearm,’ Garcia Zarate said in Spanish through a court interpreter.
The 2015 shooting turned into a major campaign issue in the 2016 presidential election and in multiple local races across the country.
Former President Trump repeatedly referred to the shooting during his 2016 campaign to bolster his argument for tougher immigration policies and his opposition to so-called sanctuary cities that limit cooperation with immigration officials.
Steinle’s parents James Steinle (left) and Liz Sullivan (right) have declined to comment on Garcia Zarate’s sentencing. They are pictured holding a photo of Steinle in 2015
Flowers and a candle are left at a makeshift memorial for Kate Steinle on Pier 14 in San Francisco in July 2015
The California court’s handling of the high-profile case enraged several politicians and supporters of restricted immigration.
Trump shared a series of November 2017 tweets after Garcia-Zarate’s verdict was announced, calling it ‘a complete travesty of justice.’
In his tweets, he drew a direct correlation to Steinle’s death and Garcia-Zarate’s appearance in the U.S. to a ‘weakly protected Obama border.’
‘The Kate Steinle killer came back and back over the weakly protected Obama border, always committing crimes and being violent, and yet this info was not used in court. His exoneration is a complete travesty of justice. BUILD THE WALL,’ he wrote at the time.
‘The jury was not told the killer of Kate was a 7 time felon. The [Chuck] Schumer/[Nancy] Pelosi Democrats are so weak on Crime that they will pay a big price in the 2018 and 2020 Elections.
‘A disgraceful verdict on the Kate Steinle case! No wonder the people of our Country are so angry with Illegal Immigration.’
Then-President Donald Trump shared a series of November 2017 tweets after Garcia-Zarate’s verdict was announced, calling it ‘a complete travesty of justice’
‘What a disgrace,’ the president’s oldest son tweeted late Thursday night after attending the White House tree lighting ceremony
Donald Trump Jr. also blamed the verdict on democrats. Responding to a question Charlie Kirk posed in a tweet about how ‘an illegal alien can kill someone and walk away,’ Don Jr responded ‘Liberals… and the general lack of common sense so prevalent amongst them’
Trump’s eldest son, Don Jr., also weighed in on the verdict and echoed his father’s sentiments.
He wrote at the time: ‘What a disgrace. Don’t let the rest of the country become California. If this isn’t a wake call up (sic) to reasonable and law abiding people I don’t know what is.’
‘Liberals… and the general lack of common sense so prevalent amongst them.’
However, public defender Matt Gonzalez said the jury’s verdict should hold.
‘This jury’s verdict should be respected,’ Gonzalez said.
‘They heard the evidence, they deliberated as a group, they heard read-back testimony, they looked at the physical evidence, and they rendered a verdict to the best of their abilities in accordance with the law.’
Gonzalez took aim at Trump during his remarks, reminding the then-president that he was also under federal investigation and deserves the same due process.