As the high-profile murder trial over the 2015 slaying of Kathryn Steinle opened in San Francisco Monday, defense attorneys argued to include testimony about a previously undisclosed auto burglary they say is related to the case.
Steinle's death fueled a hard-line stance on immigration enforcement championed by President Trump and Republican lawmakers. The case inspired "Kate's Law," which passed the House in June and would impose harsher criminal sentences for people who repeatedly enter the U.S. illegally, as defendant Jose Inez Garcia Zarate did.
Garcia Zarate, who was previously identified as Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, is facing a first-degree murder charge for allegedly firing the shot that ricocheted off San Francisco's Pier 14 and fatally struck Steinle in the back on July 1, 2015. But exactly how Garcia Zarate came to possess the Sig Sauer P239 handgun, apparently stolen from a federal Bureau of Land Management ranger's car four days before the shooting, is a cornerstone of his defense.
His attorneys plan to argue that Garcia Zarate found the gun wrapped in a T-shirt somewhere near the pier. They say this type of gun -- a favorite of law enforcement -- has a near-hair-trigger pull if it's cocked. They say the gun went off accidentally as Garcia Zarate handled it.
The burglary of the BLM ranger's car was made public shortly after the shooting, and San Francisco Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng ruled Monday that Ranger John Woychowski's testimony is relevant to the trial, over the prosecution's objection.
Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia argued that the auto burglary is irrelevant to the charges against Garcia Zarate.