No verdict was announced Tuesday in the trial of the homeless illegal immigrant charged with killing Kate Steinle on a pier in San Francisco in 2015. The jury was given the case to determine whether Steinle's slaying was part of a sick game or an accident.
The defense finished their closing arguments at the murder trial of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, in which defense attorney Matt Gonzalez urged the jurors to make their own judgements about what happened that day on the pier and not be swayed by the prosecution’s argument or other juror’s beliefs.
He stressed that what happened to Steinle was simply an awful accident and nothing could change that. He told jurors that trying to render a verdict based on how awful the incident was is “not your job.”
Deputy District Attorney Diana Garcia made a quick rebuttal, in which she described the defense’s version of the events as pure fiction and questioned why witnesses would be inclined to lie.
She also argued that nobody knows why Zarate went to the pier that day but it’s clear, she said, that he wanted to fire at people.
“There’s no reason that gun went off other than this defendant decided to pull the trigger,” Garcia told the jury.
She said Steinle was simply “the closest target” in Zarate’s line of fire and he should be held responsible for taking the life of a “young, vibrant, beautiful, cherished woman.”
In Monday’s closing arguments, Garcia told jurors Zarate deliberately shot a stolen gun towards Steinle while "playing his own secret version of Russian roulette."
As prosecutors detailed the events of July 1, 2015, Steinle's parents, Jim and Liz, wiped away tears as Garcia described "a vibrant life that was taken from us." Steinle died in her father's arms.
She also cited testimony from one witness who said the 54-year-old appeared to be smiling or laughing to himself as evidence that he had decided in advance to shoot someone.
The DA also disputed the argument by Zarate's defense team that the semi-automatic handgun stolen from a federal Bureau of Land Management ranger a week before the shooting “just fired." Garcia reiterated evidence the gun was left in double action mode, and a trigger would have had to be pulled for it to fire.
The bullet ricocheted on the pier's concrete walkway before it struck Steinle, killing her. Zarate has admitted to shooting Steinle, but says it was an accident.
Defense attorney Matt Gonzalez took a less dramatic, much more meticulous approach in his closing arguments, telling jurors prosecutors were pushing a "wild narrative of a desire to hurt someone he does not know."
The defense has said Zarate found the gun wrapped in a shirt under a chair on the pedestrian pier and it went off by accident when he picked it up.
Gonzalez told jurors that Zarate didn’t know Steinle and had no reason to want to hurt her. Since it was also not a point blank-shot, Gonzalez asked the jury, “Can you say he put his finger on the trigger and pulled it because he wanted to do her harm?”
He also argued the case should have only been charged as manslaughter, and the only question should have been if it was manslaughter, or not guilty based on an accident. He reiterated to jurors the evidence does not support the prosecution’s “wild narrative” that he’d want to hurt someone he doesn’t know.
Steinle's killing took on political overtones because Garcia Zarate is a Mexican citizen who had been deported five times and served federal prison time for illegally re-entering the United States. He had been released from the San Francisco jail about three months before the shooting, despite a request by federal immigration authorities to detain him for further deportation proceedings.
While Zarate’s immigration status is what brought the case into the national spotlight, jurors did not hear evidence about that, and it will not be a factor in the trial.
Steinle’s death became a signature issue for Donald Trump as he was running for president. He invoked the slaying in calling for the construction of a wall on the Mexican border.
San Francisco is a sanctuary city, with local law enforcement officials barred from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. President Trump has threatened to withhold federal funding to cities with similar immigration policies, but a federal judge in California on Monday permanently blocked his executive order.
Fox News' Jennifer Girdon in San Francisco and The Associated Press contributed to this report.