San Francisco

Kate Steinle Murder Trial: Defense Claims Surveillance Video Supports Argument That Shooting Was an Accident

Surveillance video footage of a group of people gathered on San Francisco's Pier 14 shortly before Kate Steinle was shot supports the claim by the man charged with her murder that he found the gun on the pier, defense attorneys said Tuesday.

Defense attorneys for Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, 45,who is on trial for second-degree murder in the July 1, 2015 shooting, asked a video enhancement expert, Paul Hiromi Endo of the San Bruno-based video and graphics firm Think Twice, Inc., to present enhanced video of the pier where the shooting occurred and analyze other images taken at the scene.

Defense attorneys Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney for the public defender's office, and Francisco Ugarte, are not contesting that he fired the shot that killed Steinle, a 32-year-old Pleasanton native and San Francisco resident.

Instead, they are presenting a series of expert witnesses this week to bolster their argument that the shooting was an accident that occurred after Garcia Zarate found and picked up a gun on the pier that had been stolen from a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger several days earlier.

The dark, grainy video presented by Endo today was taken by a surveillance camera at another pier around a quarter of a mile away and shows individuals only as small indistinct figures. The version presented to jurors today was zoomed in and enhanced to somewhat improve visibility.

While prosecutors showed jurors the portion of the video including the shooting, Gonzalez had Endo walk through an earlier time period before Garcia Zarate first appears on the pier.

A group of six people can be seen gathering there around the seat where the defendant later sat, moving back and forth and at some points appearing to bend down as if they are picking things up or setting them down.

Prosecutors have cast doubt on Garcia Zarate's statement to police that he found the gun on the pier, arguing that he could have been carrying it in his pockets.

However, defense attorneys say the images of the group on the pier shows one way the gun could have ended up on the pier.

"We believe that it was entirely likely that group of individuals discarded that weapon," Ugarte said outside of court. "That's evidence that when he said he found the gun right there it appears to be a legitimate statement."

Gonzalez also spent some time with Endo going over enhanced imagery that appeared to show Garcia Zarate bending over in his seat, another point the defense said corroborated his story. In addition, he presented still photos demonstrating that items hidden behind Garcia Zarate, such as a gun wrapped in a piece of cloth, would not necessarily have been visible to passersby.

Steinle was hit in the back by a single bullet as she walked on the pier with her family. The bullet ricocheted off the pier about 12 feet in front of Garcia Zarate before it struck her where she stood around 90 feet away.

On Monday, the defense opened its case with testimony from James Norris, former head of the San Francisco crime lab, on that bullet ricochet.

Prosecutor Diana Garcia is expected to cross-examine Endo Wednesday as the trial continues.

Steinle's shooting triggered a national furor over San Francisco's Sanctuary City policies after it was learned that Garcia Zarate, an undocumented immigrant with a history of deportations and drug charges, had been released from San Francisco jail several months earlier without notice to federal immigration authorities.

Sanctuary City policies, which have been adopted by hundreds of cities and counties across the country, limit the communication and cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities.

The policies are intended to increase community safety by encouraging immigrants to report crimes and work with local police and also to avoid liability due to illegal detentions. They have been upheld by court rulings but are bitterly opposed by immigration opponents.

Garcia Zarate had been sent to San Francisco jail after he completed a federal sentence for returning to the country following deportation because he had a warrant in the city for an old marijuana charge. That charge was dismissed once he arrived in San Francisco and he was released.

Defense attorneys have said they expect to wrap up their case this week, with closing arguments expected to take place next week.

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