The man acquitted in the 2015 shooting of Kate Steinle on a San Francisco pier pleaded guilty to gun charges in federal court, nearly seven years after the 32-year-old’s death fueled a fiery debate about immigration and border control in the U.S.
Jose Inez Garcia-Zarate pleaded guilty on Monday to being a felon in possession of a firearm and to being an alien unlawfully present in the country in possession of a firearm, officials said.
Garcia-Zarate, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, had been deported several times before he gunned down Steinle on July 1, 2015. She was strolling along Pier 14 of the Embarcadero with friends and family when she was struck in the back by gunfire after 6 p.m.
The 51-year-old suspect used a semi-automatic pistol and was in possession multiple rounds of ammunition at the time, according to a statement from United States Attorney Stephanie Hinds and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Special Agent in Charge Patrick Gorman.
Garcia-Zarate previously alleged the shooting was an accident, claiming he was handling a handgun he found stashed beneath a bench on the pier when it accidentally fired.
Gracia-Zarate, a convicted felon, was also on federal supervised release from a 2011 Texas conviction at the time. On Monday, he confessed “he was on San Francisco Embarcadero Pier 14 and possessed a semi-automatic pistol loaded with eight rounds,” officials said.
“He admitted he knew he was an alien that was unlawfully and illegally in the United States at the time and that he had previously been convicted of a felony, including the felony of Illegal Re-Entry After Deportation for which he spent more than a year in federal prison.”
A jury in 2017 acquitted Garcia-Zarate on homicide charges, triggering a national debate on immigration and sanctuary cities.
The federal gun charges against him had been pending since 2017 due to concerns regarding Garcia-Zarate’s mental health. Two doctors diagnosed him with schizophrenia and dubbed him unfit to stand trial because he couldn’t follow the legal proceedings, according to ABC 7.
“Following competency proceedings occurring throughout 2020 and 2021, a change of plea hearing was set,” according to the statement.
Garcia-Zarate’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 6, 2022. He will remain behind bars until them.
Garcia-Zarate is facing a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release.
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