A California state appeals court Friday overturned the lone conviction against an undocumented immigrant who shot and killed Kate Steinle on the San Francisco waterfront in 2015, a case which drew national attention and became a flashpoint in the debate over illegal immigration.
Jose Inez Garcia-Zarate, who was in the U.S. illegally had been deported to his native Mexico five times, was acquitted in November 2017 of first and second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and assault with a semi-automatic weapon. He was convicted of one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
On Friday, the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco overturned that conviction because the judge failed to give the jury the option of acquitting Garcia-Zarate on the theory he only possessed the weapon for a moment.
KATE STEINLE'S PARENTS CANNOT SUE SANCTUARY CITY FOR WRONGFUL DEATH, 9TH CIRCUIT RULES
Garcia-Zarate remains in custody and is facing federal charges of gun possession and being in the country illegally. His attorney, Tony Serra, told The Associated Press that trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 13 and added that the appeals court reversal will give state prosecutors the option to re-try Garcia-Zarate.
“That kind of error causes reversals all the time. Then the prosecution has the prerogative of going again,” Serra said. “The state case is a heavier case because it's a homicide and a gun. … It's going to be a big potential decision on what they're going to do.”
Steinle, 32, died on July 1, 2015, after she was struck by a bullet while walking with her father and a family friend. Garcia-Zarate claimed he unwittingly picked up the gun, which was wrapped in a T-shirt, and it fired accidentally.
The gun belonged to a federal Bureau of Land Management ranger and was stolen from his parked car a week earlier.
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Earlier this year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Steinle's parents against San Francisco. The lawsuit maintained that the city’s so-called sanctuary policy and San Francisco County Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi bore responsibility for Steinle’s death.
Three months before the killing, Garcia-Zarate was released from custody after a drug case against him was dropped. The sheriff’s office, which had ended contact between jail employees and immigration officials, ignored a request by federal authorities to hold Garcia-Zarate until they could assume custody and did not inform them that he was being released.
Fox News' Elizabeth Zwirz and Elizabeth Llorente contributed to this report, along with The Associated Press.