A California appeals court ruling overturning the illegal-gun-possession conviction of an illegal immigrant who allegedly killed a woman on a San Francisco pier in 2015 has no effect on federal prosecution against him, officials said Tuesday.
Jose Inez Garcia-Zarate, a Mexican citizen who had been deported five times, was acquitted in November 2017 of first- and second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and assault with a semi-automatic weapon in the death of Kate Steinle. He was convicted of one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The case drew national attention because of Garcia-Zarate's immigration status; it became a rallying cry for supporters of tougher immigration policies.
Last Friday, the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco overturned the gun-possession conviction on grounds that the judge failed to instruct the jury that it could acquit Garcia-Zarate on the theory that he briefly possessed the weapon.
“The state court ruling has no legal effect on the federal prosecution, which will continue,” said David Anderson, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California. “A repeatedly deported, previously convicted felon has no right to possess a firearm under federal law, even if California extends him sanctuary.”
Prosecutors argued the failure to give the jury instructions was moot since Garcia-Zarate admitted he fired the weapon. The three-judge panel disagreed and overturned the conviction.
Garcia-Zarate, 48, remained in federal custody awaiting trial on the gun possession charge, the Justice Department said.
Steinle, 32, died on July 1, 2015, after she was struck by a bullet while walking with her father and a family friend on Pier 14 off the Embarcadero in San Francisco.
The gun had been stolen from a car belonging to a federal Bureau of Land Management agent. Garcia-Zarate claimed he found the gun and accidentally fired it.
Many activists tied Steinle's death to San Francisco's sanctuary-city policies, and the case became a regular talking point during then-presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign rallies.
Garcia-Zarate was released from police custody three months before the shooting after a drug case against him was dropped.
He faces up to 10 years in prison. His attorney told The Associated Press his trial is expected to begin Jan. 13. The San Francisco district attorney office also has been weighing its options, spokesman Alex Bastian previously told Fox News.
Fox News' Judson Berger and Samuel Chamberlain contributed to this report.