Steinle murder suspect's interrogation video played in court

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) The man on trial in the 2015 fatal shooting of Kate Steinle on San  Francisco's Pier 14 gave conflicting and sometimes false answers in an interview with police after the incident, in which he seemed to confess to the shooting at one moment and then contradict himself the next.

Prosecutor Diana Garcia today showed jurors a video of a police interview with Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a 45-year-old homeless Mexican citizen charged with second-degree murder in Steinle's July 1, 2015 death.

Steinle, a 32-year-old Pleasanton native and South Beach resident who was shot with a stolen gun as she walked on the pier with her father and a family friend.

Defense attorneys are arguing that the fatal bullet, which ricocheted off the pier before it struck Steinle, was fired accidentally after Garcia Zarate found the gun on the pier and picked it up. The gun had been stolen from the car of an off-duty Bureau of Land Management ranger in 
San Francisco days earlier.

Garcia Zarate, who was arrested in the area of Townsend Street and Embarcadero about an hour after the 6:30 p.m. shooting, can be seen slumped in the interrogation room in the video as he answers police questions, initially in sleepy monosyllables.

Speaking largely through a police interpreter, Garcia Zarate first denied being near the scene of the shooting, saying he was instead sitting near the ballpark eating cookies or crackers, and gave police a false name and date of birth.

He also declared early in the interview that he is Colombian and would pay for a lawyer.

As the interrogation progressed into the early hours of the next day, Garcia Zarate acknowledged his involvement, but still gave several versions of events.

"When I got there, I was walking along, there was a rag and I stepped on it and it fired and then I picked it up," the interpreter translated him as saying.

A short time later, Garcia Zarate agreed twice with police when they asked if he pulled the trigger, but when they asked him again why he threw the gun in the water he responded through the interpreter "Because the gun was firing by itself."

Giving frequent answers of "I don't know," Garcia Zarate never indicated a motive for the shooting, saying that Steinle had not done anything to make him want to shoot her and indicating that he had not known that he shot her. At one point, in response to repeated questions, he told police he was shooting at a sea lion, or a fish.

Outside of court today Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney for the public defender's office, noted that Garcia Zarate had willingly agreed to statements suggested by police that later turned out to be false, such as when he said he was only 5 feet away from Steinle when she was shot. He was, 
in fact, around 90 feet from her, evidence shows.

He also agreed at times to statements by police suggesting that he found the gun somewhere else, but then immediately returned to saying he found it on the pier when asked to explain.

Gonzalez said the evidence was, overall, consistent with the defense theory of an accidental shooting.

He attributed the confusing statements in part to fatigue, as the interview was conducted between 1:50 a.m. and 5:45 a.m., and Garcia Sanchez had been sitting in custody since his arrest around 7:30 p.m. the previous evening. He also noted that Garcia Zarate had little formal education and 
alluded to possible mental issues.

"The fact that very skilled and experience and educated interrogators can get a second-grade Mexican immigrant to adopt what they were saying, like that he was five feet away when the gun was fired, doesn't make it true," Gonzalez said.

"When you compare 5 feet to 90 feet, when you get discrepancies like that it raises questions," Gonzalez said.

Police lied to Garcia Zarate at several points in the interview, telling him that they had witnesses, DNA and gunshot residue evidence tying him to the shooting and had recovered the firearm, none of which were true. 

Lt. Anthony Ravano testified on the stand that it was a tactic used to "motivate" the suspect to be more truthful.

Gonzalez said the practice was common in interrogations, as is lying on the part of defendants when they are first confronted by police.

The defense cross-examination of Ravano, the lead homicide investigator on the case, is expected to continue Thursday morning. Defense attorneys expect to begin presenting their case as soon as next week.

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