Steinle murder trial: Was justice done?
“Kate Steinle is a casualty of American politics,” said John Kass in the Chicago Tribune. Steinle, 32, was walking with her father along San Francisco’s Pier 14 in 2015 when she was struck by a bullet fired by José Garcia Zarate, an illegal immigrant with a criminal history who had already been deported five times. Last week, a jury acquitted Garcia Zarate on murder and manslaughter charges, convicting him of the lesser charge of possessing an illegal firearm. The defense successfully argued that Garcia Zarate fired the gun by accident, with the bullet bouncing off the pavement and hitting Steinle. But Garcia Zarate never should have been in the country in the first place. Local police had recently taken him into custody on a minor drug charge, but released him without notifying federal immigration authorities because of San Francisco’s sanctuary-city policy. “Releasing criminals onto the streets to satisfy your political goals isn’t policy.” It’s dangerous—and it got Steinle killed.
Inside the courtroom, this case was never about sanctuary cities, said Alexander Nazaryan in the Los Angeles Times. Only one question mattered: “Did he mean to fire that gun?” Defense attorneys emphasized the fact that the fatal bullet didn’t hit Steinle directly, but ricocheted off the pavement, and that the kind of gun Garcia Zarate was holding has a history of misfiring. It was enough to give the jury reasonable doubts about his guilt. The trial showed the American justice system at its best, ignoring politics to render an unemotional verdict. “If there is any good in this whole grim affair, it’s that.”
“Ironically, the very politicization of the case by right-wing media may have been partly responsible for the not-guilty verdict,” said Jeet Heer in NewRepublic.com. President Trump and the anti-immigrant crowd demonized Garcia Zarate and “wildly distorted” the facts of the case to whip up public outrage. As a result, prosecutors felt tremendous pressure to push for a murder conviction, despite not having a strong case. It reminds me of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the Trayvon Martin case, said Robert Tracinski in TheFederalist.com. Liberals saw Zimmerman as a symbol of racism and demanded he be tried on murder charges. The courtroom, however, doesn’t work like the court of public opinion, and if the evidence is murky, juries will often acquit. “This is advice the Right needs to remember, too.” ■