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Immigrant Acquitted of Killing Sentenced to Time Served on Gun Charge


FILE - Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, arrested in connection with the July 1, 2015, shooting of Kate Steinle on a pier in San Francisco, enters the Hall of Justice for his arraignment in San Francisco, July 7, 2015.

A San Francisco court has sentenced a Mexican man to time served for a gun charge after he was acquitted of murder in the death of a woman — a case that has intensified the national immigration debate.

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, will soon be released from local custody, but will be taken into the custody of federal authorities, who have filed an amended arrest warrant for him on a similar gun possession charge.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng ruled that Garcia Zarate, who has been held in a San Francisco jail since his July 1, 2015, arrest, had served enough time for his conviction of illegal possession of a firearm.

He also denied a defense request to give Garcia Zarate a new trial.

The defendant faced a maximum sentence of three years behind bars for possessing a firearm as an ex-felon.

Garcia Zarate had been deported from the United States five times and was set to be sent back to Mexico a sixth time when Kate Steinle was shot on a San Francisco pier.

Prosecutors argued Garcia Zarate was playing with a gun, twirling it around his finger, and deliberately fired it, intending to hurt anyone passing by.

The defense said the shooting was accidental. It said Garcia Zarate found the weapon wrapped in a cloth under a bench and that it went off when he picked it up.

The San Francisco court acquitted Garcia Zarate of first-degree murder and manslaughter charges, but convicted him of the weapons possession charge.

A federal grand jury indicted the defendant on two felony charges of illegal gun possession less than a week after the San Francisco jury acquitted him of murder.

As a presidential candidate and after he was elected, President Donald Trump repeatedly talked about Steinle's killing by an illegal immigrant. He used the crime as an argument for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and also for signing an executive order denying federal funds to "sanctuary cities," such as San Francisco.

San Francisco's sanctuary city policy bars local officials from helping federal immigration authorities in deportation matters unless they have a warrant.

The San Francisco sheriff's department released Garcia Zarate from jail several weeks before Steinle was killed, ignoring a request from federal immigration officials to detain him for another deportation.