Illegal immigrant acquitted in California shooting gets three years on gun charge

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 05, 2018 6:51 PM

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) - An illegal immigrant acquitted in a fatal San Francisco shooting, in a verdict condemned by President Donald Trump, was sentenced to three years in prison on a lesser gun charge on Friday but credited for time already served behind bars, authorities said.

A San Francisco Superior Court jury on Nov. 30 found Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, 45, not guilty of murder and manslaughter charges in connection with the July 1, 2015, shooting death of Kate Steinle. Jurors found him guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

A San Francisco judge on Friday sentenced Garcia Zarate to three years in prison on the firearms charge, said San Francisco District Attorney's Office spokesman Alex Bastian.

Garcia Zarate, a Mexican national, has been behind bars since his 2015 arrest, so his sentence has been completed after factoring in credits, Bastian said.

Garcia Zarate had found the gun that killed Steinle. It accidentally discharged, with the bullet ricocheting off the ground at a crowded pier before striking the 32-year-old woman, his defense attorneys have said.

Prosecutors claimed Garcia Zarate intentionally fired the gun, but they said they accepted the jury's verdict.

Trump, who used the Steinle case as a rallying cry against the policies of so-called sanctuary cities for immigrants during his successful run for the presidency, has called the jury's verdict "disgraceful."

On Dec. 5, just days after he was acquitted in San Francisco, Garcia Zarate was indicted on federal charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm and being an illegal immigrant in possession of a firearm.

He remains in the custody of the San Francisco Sheriff's Department and will be handed over to U.S. Marshals on warrants stemming from the federal charges, said sheriff's department spokeswoman Nancy Crowley.

The latest criminal counts against Zarate would not violate the constitutional protection against so-called double jeopardy, which prohibits a person from being tried twice on the same charges, because they differed legally from the state court charges, a U.S. Department of Justice spokesman said last month.

A representative for the Office of the Federal Public Defender could not immediately be reached for comment.

Garcia Zarate faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on each charge if convicted.

Immigration agents have vowed to eventually deport Garcia Zarate, who first came to the United States as a juvenile and was deported multiple times.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Tom Brown)