Alternate Juror in Steinle Trial Supports Murder Acquittal in SF Pier Shooting

SF man writes first-person account of proceedings for Politico

An alternate juror in the Kate Steinle murder trial said in an interview Wednesday with NBC Bay Area that the acquittal verdict was correct.

Phil Van Stockum first made the comment in a first-person account of the proceedings for Politico magazine, explaining why the not-guilty verdict was the right decision.

Van Stockum sat through the entire trial, saw all the evidence presented, discussed the verdict with the jury after it was delivered and concluded that it was the right decision, he wrote in the article that was posted on Politico.com Wednesday.

However, Van Stockum was not part of the deliberations.

He said there was no evidence the defendant, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, planned to kill Kate Steinle on July 1, 2015.

Van Stockum agrees with the defense's opinion that murder charges should not have been brought against Garcia Zarate, a Mexican man in the United States illegally. He also outlines how the specific instructions given to the jury as well as another questionable move by the prosecution led to the not guilty verdict on manslaughter charges.

The jurors had to determine whether Garcia Zarate was holding a gun before it killed Steinle. Garcia Zarate told jurors he fired the weapon by accident, that he didn't know it was a gun until it fired.

Van Stockum, a mechanical engineer, also provides details about the gun and Garcia Zarate's actions before and after it went off.

"In a criminal trial, the defendant has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt of guilt, instead of the other way around, " Van Stockum said in an interview with NBC Bay Area. "That presumption of innocence includes a stipulation that if there is a reasonable interpretation of the evidence that favors the defendant for any particular charge, even if there are other reasonable interpretations that incriminate him, the jury has to choose the one that favors the defendant."

To that end, Van Stockum said, the prosecution's job was to eliminate any reasonable interpretation of the evidence that favors innocence.

Van Stockum said the fact the bullet ricocheted 12 feet in front of Garcia Zarate and then traveled another 78 feet was critical evidence that the defendant was not aiming at Steinle. He said that evidence, pointing to an accidental firing of the gun, was important because murder and manslaughter charges require specific types of intent.

Van Stockum said it was not an easy decision to come forward with the article and the interview. He consulted with his wife, family and other people close to him. Ultimately, the confusion and backlash over the verdict persuaded him to speak out.

"The role of a juror is to enact the justice that is enshrined in the law of the United States," he said. "And that is what the jurors did in this case, and they could not have done otherwise lawfully. I think we should commend them instead of calling them despicable."

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