A jury on Thursday found an undocumented immigrant not guilty in the July 2015 death of Kate Steinle, a decision that reignited the debate over immigration policy.
Garcia Zarate was charged with murder, assault with a deadly weapon and being a felon in possession of a firearm in the death of Steinle, a 32-year-old Pleasanton native and San Francisco resident, on July 1, 2015. Steinle was killed while posing for pictures with her father on a San Francisco pier. Before the shooting, officials in San Francisco released Garcia Zarate from custody instead of turning him over to immigration authorities.
The shooting, which occurred in a so-called sanctuary city, sparked a national debate about immigration reform. While U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had issued a detainer for Zarate, he was released under the city's sanctuary laws.
Languishing in seventh behind his Republican competitors at the time, just two weeks into his campaign, Trump used Garcia Zarate's past-he had been deported from the US five times and had seven felony convictions, including drug charges-as proof of his campaign's anti-immigrant operating thesis.
"Countless innocent American lives have been stolen because our politicians have failed in their duty to secure our borders and enforce our laws like they have to be enforced", Trump said during a August 2016 campaign speech in Phoenix, Arizona.
Jurors did find him guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm, meaning he knowingly had a firearm but there was no intent for him to hurt or shoot anyone.
A photo of murder victim Kate Steinle, right, is placed on an easel as her father Jim Steinle (second from left) prepares to testify about her murder during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on USA immigration enforcement policies, on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 21, 2015.More news: Waze updated with motorcycle routing, voice commands, and HOV route support
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Gonzalez said in his closing argument that he knows it's hard to believe Garcia Zarate found an object that turned out to be a weapon, which fired when he picked it up.
Garcia Zarate has prior convictions for a drug charge and for re-entering the country after deportation.
MCEVERS: What are some of the elements of this case that led jurors to this verdict?
Assistant District Attorney Alex Bastian said prosecutors were disappointed in the verdict but respected the jury's decision. Freya Horne, chief legal counsel to the county sheriff who runs the jail, told CNN that he was let go because there was no legal cause to detain the suspect.
He said ICE officials "will work to take custody" of Garcia Zarate and deport him.
Defense attorney Matt Gonzalez said Garcia Zarate found the gun at the pier.
The fatal bullet struck concrete about 12 feet away from the defendant and traveled another 78 feet to hit Kathryn Steinle. "I have met with numerous great parents who lost their children to sanctuary cities and open borders".