Jurors on Thursday kicked off their sixth day of deliberations in the Kate Steinle murder trial that sparked a national debate over immigration policy.
Legal experts said that deliberations are taking longer than usual for a typical murder trial. They note that the case is complicated by the defendant's claim that the gun that killed Kate Steinle fired accidentally.
Jurors are deciding whether Jose Ines Garcia Zarate meant to shoot Steinle in 2015 or if they believe his claim that the shooting was accidental.
Longtime San Francisco Bay Area defense attorney Dan Horowitz says jurors may be struggling to find a compromise verdict short of murder.
"It's a heinous crime, but they may be having trouble deciding he's a monster like Charles Manson," Horowitz said. "On the other hand, none of them can imagine doing what he did. Besides, guns don't go off by themselves."
Jurors have been instructed that they can find Garcia Zarate guilty of murder or manslaughter.
University of California, Berkeley law professor Andrea Roth says the lengthy deliberations may mean the jurors are divided.[[459385373, C]]
"It might have something to do with the Thanksgiving break, which gave jurors time to think, even if they weren't speaking with each other," Roth said. "It might suggest the jurors are polarized or there is at least one holdout for a minority position."
Roth and Horowitz also said all juries are different, and it's difficult to determine why jurors are moving at the pace they are until after the trial.
"Even if five days is on the long side, each jury is different, and it's very hard to draw inferences with any confidence," she said.
Steinle was shot dead in July 2015 as she walked with her father on a San Francisco pedestrian pier. Garcia Zarate said he was sitting on the pier when he found a gun under his seat. He said the gun accidentally fired when he picked it up. The bullet ricocheted and fatally struck Steinle in the back.
A U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger reported the gun stolen from his SUV parked in San Francisco several days before the shooting.
Garcia Zarate had been deported five times previously and was wanted for another deportation when the San Francisco sheriff released him from jail after a local marijuana charge was dropped. He was released despite a request from federal immigration authorities to detain him. San Francisco is a so-called sanctuary city and local law enforcement officials are barred from cooperating with most deportation efforts.
Donald Trump pointed to Steinle's death to support his call to stiffen immigration policies in the country while he campaigned for president.
President Trump has threatened to cut off funding to U.S. cities with similar policies.