Prosecutor: Shooting of Kate Steinle on San Francisco pier was intentional

Kate Steinle, left, and Jose Ines Garcia Zarate

CBS San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO -- A Mexican national who touched off a debate on illegal immigration when he fatally shot a woman on a San Francisco pier fired the gun on purpose, a prosecutor said Monday in her opening statement at his trial.

Deputy District Attorney Diana Garcia showed the gun to the jury and said a ballistics expert will testify that the only way to fire it is to pull the trigger.

"It's a very reliable, high-quality gun," Garcia said. "It's one that won't go off on accident."

Defendant Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, 54, has acknowledged shooting Kate Steinle in the back while she was walking with her father on the pier in 2015.

Garcia Zarate has said the shooting was accidental and that he was handling a handgun he found wrapped in a T-shirt under a bench on the pier when it accidentally fired.

The shooting touched off a political furor during last year's presidential race, with President Trump citing Steinle's death as a reason to toughen U.S. immigration policies.

Garcia Zarate is charged with second-degree murder, which could result in a sentence of 15 years to life in prison if he is convicted.

San Francisco Pier Shooting

In this July 7, 2015 file photo, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, right, is led into the courtroom for his arraignment in San Francisco.

AP

Garcia Zarate had been deported five times and was homeless in San Francisco when he shot the 32-year-old Steinle. He had recently completed a prison sentence for illegal re-entry to the U.S. when he was transferred to the San Francisco County jail to face a 20-year-old marijuana charge.

Prosecutors dropped that charge, and the San Francisco sheriff released Zarate from jail despite a federal immigration request to detain him for at least two more days for deportation.

The sheriff's department said it was following the city's sanctuary policy of limited cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Steinle's mother and brother attended the opening of the trial.

Defense attorney Matt Gonzalez told reporters before the start of proceedings that his client was unaware that he had picked up a gun on the pier.

"He does not bear criminal responsibility," said Gonzalez, who was expected to present his opening statement later in the day.

San Francisco Pier Shooting

Liz Sullivan, the mother of Kate Steinle, center, exits a courtroom with Steinle's brother Brad Steinle, left, and his wife Amy, second from right, in San Francisco, Monday, Oct. 23, 2017. The murder trial started Monday for Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a Mexican man who set off a national immigration debate after he shot and killed Kate Steinle on a San Francisco pier on July 1, 2015. Garcia Zarate has said the shooting was accidental.

AP

The handgun belonged to a Bureau of Land Management ranger who reported that it had been stolen from his parked car in San Francisco a week before Steinle was shot.

Since being elected, Trump has threatened to withhold federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities such as San Francisco, several of which have filed lawsuits to prevent the move.

None of that is at issue during the trial, and the judge has barred mention of the politics of immigration and gun control during the proceedings.

Garcia Zarate went by the name Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez when he was arrested. But Gonzalez said he now prefers to be called by his birth name of Zarate.