Closing arguments set for San Francisco pier killing that fueled immigration debate

FILE - In this July 7, 2015 file photo, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, right, is led into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, left, and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garciaor, center, for his arraignment at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco. (Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle via AP, Pool, File)

Attorneys were beginning their final arguments Monday in the trial of Mexican man accused of killing a woman on a San Francisco pier in a case that touched off a national immigration debate.

The trial resumed Monday morning with instructions to the jury reminding them not to read newspapers or view social media while they are considering the case.

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate had been deported five times and was wanted for a sixth deportation when Kate Steinle was fatally shot in the back while walking with her father on the pier. Garcia Zarate did not deny shooting Steinle but said it was an accident.

The shooting happened during the presidential campaign in July 2015 and touched off a fierce debate over the country's immigration policies.

Garcia Zarate said he found the stolen gun wrapped in a shirt under a chair on a pedestrian pier and that the weapon accidentally fired when he picked it up. The bullet ricocheted on the pier's concrete walkway before it struck Steinle.

His attorneys say the ricochet showed the shooting was an accident.

Prosecutors argue Garcia Zarate may have been a poor marksman, but he still pointed the gun at Steinle and purposely pulled the trigger. Much of the testimony during the trial has focused on ballistics experts.

A judge ruled last week that the jury of six men and six women can consider a more serious charge of first-degree murder in addition to a second-degree murder charge. The jury is expected to get the case later Monday.

After Garcia Zarate finished a federal prison sentence for illegal re-entry into the United States, he was transferred in March 2015 to San Francisco's jail to face a 20-year-old charge for selling marijuana. The sheriff's department released him a few days later after the district attorney dropped the marijuana charge, despite a request from federal immigration officials to detain him for deportation. San Francisco's so-called "sanctuary city" law bars local officials from cooperating with federal deportation attempts.

President Donald Trump said during the campaign that Steinle's death was another reason the United States needed to build a wall on its southern border and tighten its immigration policies. Since taking office, Trump has threatened to withhold federal funding from cities with similar immigration laws.

Defense attorneys have told jurors that Garcia Zarate lived on the streets of San Francisco after his release from jail, scraping together a living by collecting recyclables and scavenging food.

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