SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A Mexican man acquitted of murder in a San Francisco shooting that ignited a national immigration debate pleaded not guilty Tuesday to U.S. gun charges.
Federal prosecutors charged Jose Ines Garcia Zarate with two counts of illegal gun possession in November after jurors in California court found him not guilty of killing Kate Steinle in 2015. The charges are similar to a conviction that the jury did return — being a felon in possession of a gun — leading to a three-year jail sentence.
Garcia Zarate’s attorneys, J. Tony Serra and Maria Belyi, argue that the federal charges are politically motivated and are asking for the case to be thrown out. Short of dismissal, they say the two federal charges should be combined into one.
Garcia Zarate acknowledged holding the gun that killed Steinle but said it fired accidentally when he found it wrapped in a T-shirt under a bench on a popular San Francisco pier, where she was walking with her father.
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President Donald Trump and others in his administration have repeatedly pointed to Steinle’s death as a reason for toughening the country’s immigration policies. Garcia Zarate was living in the country illegally and had been deported five times before the shooting.
The case also prompted criticism of San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” policy, which limits local officials from cooperating with federal immigration authorities on deportations.
The San Francisco sheriff’s department released Garcia Zarate from jail several weeks before the shooting despite a federal request to detain him until immigration authorities could take him into custody.
Hundreds of cities have adopted similar immigration policies, saying it helps police have better ties with the community.