A California appeals court overturned the gun conviction against an undocumented immigrant who shot and killed Kate Steinle in San Francisco four years ago — a case that drew international attention and energized then-candidate Donald Trump’s calls for a border wall and an end to “sanctuary cities.”

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges after a 2017 trial that lasted more than a month. Only one charge stuck then: The jury ruled him guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

But in a decision filed Friday, the state’s 1st District Court of Appeal threw out the conviction because the judge failed to tell the jury it could acquit Garcia Zarate if it was persuaded by his defense that he only momentarily had the gun — which is not legally the same as possession of a firearm.

Garcia Zarate’s public defender told The Associated Press he believes the jury would have acquitted him had it been properly instructed.

Justice Sandra Margulies, who penned the 3-0 ruling, sided with the defense, saying that the jury asked the trial judge for the definition of possession and whether there was a time requirement for the charge.

“These questions go to the heart of the momentary possession defense,” she wrote. “The fact the jury asked whether there was a time requirement for possession suggests jurors were wrestling with how long defendant had the gun.”


During his trial, Garcia Zarate said he unwittingly picked up a stolen gun that was wrapped in a T-shirt while he roamed a pier on the city’s waterfront that night, in July 2015. The gun went off, and his attorneys said the bullet hit the ground 12 feet away and ricocheted 78 feet into Steinle’s back.

Garcia Zarate had been released from jail three months earlier on a dropped marijuana charge. When he got out, he was homeless.

Steinle’s parents — along with Trump and a host of conservative commentators — blamed the city and county of San Francisco for its so-called sanctuary policies that prevented local authorities from cooperating with most federal immigration investigations. They say these laws allowed Garcia Zarate, who had already been deported five times, to keep walking the streets.

The family pursued a lawsuit against San Francisco and its former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, saying it wanted local and federal officials held responsible. But in March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled they couldn’t sue San Francisco for negligence.

Garcia Zarate, however, will remain in custody on federal gun possession charges. He’ll stand trial in January.