The murder trial of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate began Monday.
Garcia Zarate is accused of shooting a young girl dead on a San Francisco pier just over two years ago.
The crime prompted a fierce debate on local and state immigration policies – not only due to its appalling nature, but because the killer is an undocumented alien who’d been deported from the United States five times.
The girl’s father, Jim Steinle, tearfully recounted the night of his daughter’s death to the court.
He, his daughter Kate, and a family friend were walking along a pier in San Francisco when they heard a loud bang.
Kate fell quickly to the ground as Jim rushed to find out what had gone wrong.
“I couldn’t figure out what was wrong,” he said. “She didn’t have any health problems.”
Only after turning her over and lifting her blouse did he see the bullet hole.
Although paramedics were quick to arrive, Kate was declared dead upon arrival at a nearby hospital.
Garcia Zarate’s lawyer, Matt Gonzalez, said his client didn’t know he’d picked up a firearm when he reached underneath a park bench and found an object wrapped in a t-shirt.
“He didn’t know he was handling a firearm,” Gonzalez argued, saying the pistol had no safety and operated on a hair-trigger motion.
“This gun is inherently dangerous in the hands of someone who isn’t properly trained,” he said, before asking the jury whether they’d have considered it murder if the perpetrator had been a Swedish tourist or college student rather than a Mexican national.
ABC News reports that the killing touched off a national debate on immigration, being brought up frequently during the 2016 presidential election.
President Donald Trump referred to the murder as one reason why immigration policies needed to be toughened and sanctuary cities – including San Francisco – needed to be clamped down upon.
Garcia Zarate was apparently homeless at the time of incident and said he’d been handling the firearm when it accidentally went off.
Charged with second-degree murder, the man was apparently homeless on the date of the incident.
The handgun was later found to have belonged to a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger who reported it stolen from his pickup truck a week before the killing.
Contentiously, Garcia Zarate had been held in a detention center not long before the girl’s death. He’d been on a 20-year old marijuana charge which prosecutors later dropped. Despite a request from immigration officials to hold Garcia Zarate for another two days, after which he would be slated for deportation, the City of San Francisco permitted his release in line with sanctuary policies.
The trial is expected to last for several weeks.