Justice Department May Prosecute Killer of Kate Steinle After He Was Acquitted

December 1, 2017 Updated: October 5, 2018    

An official from the Justice Department confirmed reports that the agency is looking into filing federal charges against the man who killed Kate Steinle in the summer two years ago. The official declined to give more information.

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a Mexican man who is an illegal alien in the United States, was acquitted of Steinle’s murder and manslaughter on Thursday, Nov. 30. He was convicted on a lesser charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Brad Steinle, (L) brother of Kate Steinle is comforted by his father Jim Steinle (R) as he speaks during a news conference in San Francisco on Sept. 1, 2015. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

He may now face federal charges for a felony re-entry or a felony violation of supervised release, hypothesized Sarah Isgur Flores, Justice Department spokeswoman, on Friday’s “Fox & Friends.

“We will prosecute this to the fullest extent available in the law,” she said.

Zarate has been deported five times and had a rap sheet of multiple crimes, including drug crimes, Flores told Fox News, adding that he knew about San Francisco’s sanctuary status—the city’s policy to severely constrain its cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

According to Zarate, he was living on the streets when he found a gun on a pier in San Francisco and accidentally fired the gun. The bullet ricocheted off the concrete ground and hit Kate Steinle, 32, in the lower back while she was walking down Pier 14 with her father on July 1, 2015, San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Steinle died from a lower back wound after the round pierced her heart.

Prosecutors argued Zarate aimed and fired at Steinle intentionally.

Her death has added fuel to a heated debate on the consequences of sanctuary policies. Zarate was released from a San Francisco jail just months before the shooting. There was a standing federal order for his deportation, but sanctuary policies prevent the city’s law enforcement from ensuring people like Zarate are handed over to federal authorities for deportation upon release.

“This is a person who should not have been in San Francisco to begin with,” Flores said. “Kate Steinle should still be alive today.”

Zarate’s acquittal has initiated yet another debate. While his defense presented multiple pieces of evidence that the shooting was accidental (and not a first- or second-degree murder), Zarate also faced an involuntary manslaughter charge.

“Involuntary manslaughter usually refers to an unintentional killing that results from recklessness or criminal negligence, or from an unlawful act that is a misdemeanor or low-level felony,” according to FindLaw.com.

In this case, could the prosecutors argue Zarate’s killing of Steinle resulted from an unlawful act of his illegal possession of a firearm?

“It sure seems to me that there was a good argument for manslaughter here,” said Ken White, former Assistant United States Attorney and co-founder of the blog Popehat, on Twitter.

However, he said that the prosecutors may have intentionally left the manslaughter charge out of their arguments.

“The reason is strategic. Prosecutors often choose the level of offense they want and argue hard for that and de-emphasize the arguments for the other levels out of concern that a jury will convict of a lesser included because it’s simpler to decide,” he wrote.

“So it would not surprise me at all if the prosecutor didn’t really forcefully and in detail make the ‘even if it was accidental it was manslaughter’ argument, out of fear it would encourage the jury to choose that instead of murder.”

If that is the case, the jury “may not get” why the lesser charge applies, he said.

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