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Kate Steinle case: After acquittal in pier killing, Garcia Zarate appears in federal court

SF Gate logo SF Gate 1/9/2018 By Evan Sernoffsky

In this July 7, 2015 file photo, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, right, is led into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

In this July 7, 2015 file photo, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, right, is led into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
© Michael Macor, The Chronicle / /

An undocumented immigrant acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges in the 2015 death of Kate Steinle on San Francisco’s Pier 14 appeared for the first time Monday in federal court to face gun charges related to the politically charged shooting that he said was an accident.

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate — who during the hearing at the U.S. District Court in San Francisco said he goes by another name, Jose Juan Dominguez de la Parra — was charged by federal prosecutors with being a felon in possession of a firearm and being an undocumented immigrant in possession of a firearm.

He is also the subject of a federal warrant out of Texas alleging a probation violation. Authorities said he failed to check in with probation officers while committing a crime and possessing a weapon in San Francisco.

The federal gun charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and Garcia Zarate faces up to an two years in prison in the Texas case.

Garcia Zarate appeared Monday before Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James alongside his attorney, J. Tony Serra. Dressed in red clothing from the Alameda County Jail, where he was moved last week by the U.S. Marshals Service, Garcia Zarate said he understood the charges against him, but did not enter a plea. He is due back in court Feb. 13.

Serra said he plans to file two motions to have the case dismissed, arguing that the federal prosecution constitutes double jeopardy after last year’s trial in San Francisco Superior Court and that the charges are “vindictive.”

A city jury acquitted Garcia Zarate on Nov. 30 of murder and manslaughter in Steinle’s killing on July 1, 2015, but found him guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm. To bring the double-jeopardy motion, Serra said he must prove federal authorities and San Francisco prosecutors colluded.

“Did the feds aid and abet in the state prosecution? Were they in the background directing strategy and trial tactics? That’s what we hope for here,” Serra said.

The San Francisco district attorney’s office declined to comment on the federal case.

The federal charges, Serra said, are vindictive because they came as result of the not-guilty verdicts in Superior Court.

Last Friday, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng sentenced Garcia Zarate to the maximum three-year prison term for the state gun charge. Garcia Zarate had already served his time awaiting trial, and was turned over to federal authorities, who had indicted him Dec. 5.


The case intensified a debate over immigration enforcement and sanctuary laws because Garcia Zarate was facing a sixth deportation to his home country of Mexico before Steinle’s death. The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, following city policy, released him instead of turning him over to immigration agents.

Steinle, 32, died after being shot in the heart as she walked along the pier with her father. San Francisco prosecutors said the shooting was purposeful, but Garcia Zarate’s attorneys argued he found a gun that had been stolen days earlier from a federal agent’s nearby car. The gun, wrapped in a cloth under a bench on the pier, went off as Garcia Zarate unwrapped it, his attorneys said.

Evidence presented during a six-week trial showed the bullet ricocheted off the pier before hitting Steinle.

Before the shooting, Garcia Zarate had been brought to San Francisco to face a decades-old marijuana charge after he was released from federal prison in the Texas case. The drug charges were dropped and Garcia Zarate was released.

Evan Sernoffsky is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: esernoffsky@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @EvanSernoffsky

RELATED VIDEO: ZARATE COURT HEARING: The illegal immigrant found guilty of gun possession in Kate Steinle case could be turned over to the feds (Provided by CBS News)

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