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Man acquitted in S.F. pier fatal shooting is sentenced on gun charges

Booking photo of José Inez García Zárate
A California federal judge on Monday sentenced José Inez García Zárate, who was acquitted of homicide, to the seven years he’s already spent in jail for federal firearms charges.
(San Francisco Police Department)
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The man who was acquitted of homicide after a woman was fatally shot on a San Francisco pier in 2015 was sentenced Monday to time served for federal firearms charges.

José Inez García Zárate, a Mexican national, was indicted in 2017 for being a felon and undocumented immigrant in possession of a firearm and ammunition. The federal indictment came immediately after García Zárate was acquitted in San Francisco County Superior Court of the homicide of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle.

The case and acquittal drew national attention after President Trump attempted to use them to ignite fervor over illegal immigration during his first election campaign and term.

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Despite the acquittal, García Zárate has remained in custody for the federal charges and has spent nearly seven years in jail since his arrest in 2015.

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The Associated Press reported that U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria granted García Zárate time served but he will not be released. Instead, he will be sent to Texas where he faces federal immigration charges and deportation.

“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 Monday, according to the Associated Press.

Before the incident, García Zárate had been deported from the United States five times after coming from Mexico.

He had been transported to San Francisco to face a two-decade-old marijuana charge that prosecutors eventually dropped, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. He was released despite a federal immigration hold.

On July 15, 2015, Steinle was walking along Pier 14 in San Francisco with a friend and family member when she was struck in the back by a bullet fired by Zárate, who was seen in a chair nearby, according to court documents.

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Steinle, 32, was transported to a local hospital, where she died.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the round fired from the gun had hit the concrete ground before ricocheting into Steinle. The firearm itself had been stolen a few days before the shooting from a U.S. Bureau of Land Management vehicle.

The defense said that García Zárate had found the gun that day under the chair he was sitting in, wrapped in a T-shirt or cloth, the Chronicle reported. He immediately dropped the gun as it went off, the Chronicle said.

The prosecution was led by the office of then-San Francisco District Atty. George Gascón.

Ultimately, jurors acquitted García Zárate of murder and manslaughter but found him guilty of a firearm possession charge after six days of deliberation.

The firearm charge was overturned by a California appellate court in 2019, which said jurors had not been sufficiently informed about “momentary possession” of a firearm.

Federal prosecutors handed down their indictment only a few weeks after the acquittal in November 2017. A psychiatrist found him incompetent to stand trial on the federal charges.

After going back on his medication, his competency was restored and he pleaded guilty to the federal charges in March.

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