The irony of Thursday’s verdict in the case against Jose Ines Garcia Zarate is something critics are suggesting could only happen in San Francisco: acquitted on a second-degree murder charge but convicted for illegal possession of a firearm by a felon.
San Francisco is a so-called “sanctuary city” that has tried twice to ban guns and both times has lost in court in cases brought by the Second Amendment Foundation. The second case also saw the National Rifle Association involved as a plaintiff. The city has a reputation for being anti-gun.
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The repeat illegal immigrant had been deported five times in the past and has felony convictions on his record. The jury of six men and six women found him not guilty in the slaying of Kate Steinle 2½ years ago, but guilty of the gun charge. He claimed to have found the stolen pistol wrapped in a cloth on the popular tourist pier where the shooting occurred, and that it accidentally discharged. The bullet ricocheted and hit Steinle, who was standing several yards away.
The handgun used by Garcia Zarate, also known as Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, had been stolen a few days earlier from the private vehicle owned by a ranger with the federal Bureau of Land Management. However it got to the pier, when Garcia Zarate handled it he was in violation of state and federal gun laws which did not prevent the tragedy.
Garcia Zarate may not be out of the woods. According to a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, that agency is now “considering” filing federal charges. The verdict brought a swift reaction of outrage from President Donald Trump, who called the verdict “disgraceful.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions blamed the “sanctuary city” policy in San Francisco for having allowed Garcia Zarate on the streets.
Possession of a firearm by a felon can draw up to a three-year sentence in the county jail under California statute. There’s also a possible fine of up to $10,000.
The case has reignited controversy over the “sanctuary city” policy. San Francisco is one of dozens of cities along the West Coast that have adopted such policies. Trump had made the case a campaign issue last year, using it to call for immigration reform and building a wall along the southern border.