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Closing Arguments Heard In Kate Steinle Murder Trial

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The case of a Mexican citizen accused of murdering a woman in San Francisco has become a cause for conservative activists. They say it shows the government needs to crack down more on undocumented immigrants, especially those with criminal histories. A jury is now deliberating in this case. And it's all taking place in San Francisco, a sanctuary city that won't cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Alex Emslie of member station KQED joins us now from just outside the courtroom. Thanks for taking the time.

ALEX EMSLIE, BYLINE: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: President Trump has singled out this case. What is its significance beyond the shooting of a tourist in San Francisco?

EMSLIE: Well, I think the significance comes down to the immigration/criminal history of the defendant who's charged in this case, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate. He has a history of at least five deportations from the U.S. and spent about 15 of the past 20 years in United States federal prison for illegal re-entry after he was caught coming back into the U.S. He was criminally charged for that and spent a lot of time in prison. He was released in San Francisco a little over two months before Kathryn Steinle was killed on the city's waterfront. And best anybody can tell during that time, he was homeless, collecting cans for recycling reimbursement.

SHAPIRO: And so was this a failure of the immigration system?

EMSLIE: Well, it gets really complicated. So San Francisco does not comply with what are called immigration holds or detainers that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests from, you know, county jails, sheriffs' departments. That isn't - there's a long history of cities - so-called sanctuary cities and their arguments for separating municipal, local, public safety from federal immigration enforcement. But it also relies on some more recent U.S. District Court rulings that holding a defendant past the time of their release for a potential criminal charge is unconstitutional. And so complying with an ICE detainer may break federal case law in and of itself.

Anyway, San Francisco lands on the side of they generally don't comply with those. There was one in this case, but it was ignored. Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was released. And two and a half months later, he was involved in the death of Kathryn Steinle.

SHAPIRO: And that particular death is pretty extraordinary circumstances. Just briefly tell us what happened there.

EMSLIE: Yeah. So - and I think it's important to say how it's been presented on the national level - you know, that this was a point-blank shot with a gun that the defendant stole. None of that is true. The gun was stolen from a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger's car four days before the shooting, but absolutely no evidence ties the defendant to that theft. And there's some reason to believe it was the work of a auto burglary ring that would not fit Jose Ines Garcia Zarate's M.O., if you will.

So he came into possession of this gun somehow, and that's what the jury is assuming - that he did not steal the gun - and caused it to fire as he was sitting on this pedestrian pier in San Francisco, pier 14. It ricocheted 12 feet away from where he was sitting and traveled 78 feet before it hit Kathryn Steinle in the back. That ricochet has been a cornerstone of the defense's case, saying, you can't intentionally shoot someone and ricochet the bullet and have it fly so far after the ricochet. That's an impossible intentional shot.

SHAPIRO: And now the jury is deliberating. That's Alex Emslie of member station KQED. Thank you very much.

EMSLIE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SATIN JACKETS' "COAST TO COAST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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