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 that drew national attention and became a flashpoint in the debate over illegal immigration.
Jose Inez Garcia-Zarate, who was in the U.S. illegally and 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, saying the judge failed to give the jury the option of acquitting Garcia-Zarate on the theory he possessed the weapon for only a moment.
Prosecutors argued that the jury instruction lapse was harmless because Garcia-Zarate admitted firing the gun and experts said he couldn’t do so without pulling the trigger. The court disagreed, saying the jury’s verdict showed they rejected the prosecution theory that the shooting was intentional or even negligent and they had asked the judge to define possession and whether there was a time requirement for possession.