Immigrant acquitted of killing Kate Steinle is sentenced for gun charge

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU/AP) -- A Mexican man acquitted of murder in the shooting death of a San Francisco woman that sparked a national immigration debate received a three-year prison sentence for illegal gun possession Friday. 

But with credit for time served, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate's sentence is actually complete.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng denied a defense request to give Garcia Zarate a new trial for his conviction of being a felon in possession of a firearm. 

A felony gun possession was the only conviction to come out the six-week trial where the jury decided that Kate Steinle's killing, the result of a ricochet bullet fired from 90 feet way, was an accident. Defense attorneys argued that the judge failed to properly instruct jurors.

He had previously been convicted of illegally re-entering 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.

Meanwhile, Garcia Zarate faces federal charges for being an "illegal alien" in possession of a firearm.

"We're going to ascertain whether or not there was collusion between the federal authorities and the state authorities and if so, we can bring a motion to dismiss on double jeopardy grounds," said Tony Serra, the famed defense attorney who will now represent Zarate in the federal case.

San Francisco's "sanctuary city" policy bars local officials from helping federal immigration authorities in deportation matters unless they have a warrant. Donald Trump pointed to the shooting during his presidential campaign as another reason to build a wall along the Mexican border and tighten immigration policies.
Defense lawyers argued in court papers that the judge improperly barred the jury from considering Garcia Zarate's claim that he didn't know he was holding a gun when it fired. They also argue that he didn't hold the gun long enough to warrant a firearm possession conviction.
Jurors had asked for clarification during deliberations on what "intent" they had to determine to convict Garcia Zarate of illegal possession.

Garcia Zarate's defense attorney for the murder trial, Matt Gonzales said when the verdict came in, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others were already talking about what they were going to do because they didn't agree with the jury.

"They started talking about well, we'll charge him with illegal re-entry and we'll do this and we'll do that. And so that has all the all the hallmarks of a vindictive prosecution," said Gonzales.

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 of the pier's concrete walkway and striking Steinle in the back.

Garcia Zarate will be on parole for 48 months. He is currently in San Francisco jail but is expected to be turned over to U.S. Marshals to face the federal charges on Monday or Tuesday.