SAN FRANCISCO, CA (ABC News 7) – In a surprising verdict, the jury of six men and six women deliberated and came back with a not guilty verdict, acquitting defendant Jose Ines Garcia Zarate. He was facing second degree murder charges for killing 32-year-old Pleasanton resident Kate Steinle on July 1, 2015, at Pier 14 in San Francisco.
The jury found Garcia Zarate guilty of possession of a firearm by a felon.
While Garcia Zarate can technically walk out of the courtroom, it’s expected he will be taken into custody by Immigration officials and eventually deported back to his native Mexico.
The case gained notoriety because Garcia Zarate is an undocumented immigrant who had been deported several times and had a number of felony convictions.
Steinle’s death became part of the immigration debate in this country, with then-candidate Donald Trump criticizing San Francisco for its sanctuary city status during his campaign.
The Steinle family has been waiting more than two years for this day. Kate Steinle was shot and killed when she was walking with her father and a friend on the pier.
Garcia Zarate, who was homeless at the time, claimed he found the gun wrapped in a piece of cloth under a swivel chair at the pier. He says he picked it up, and it accidentally fired, hitting Steinle in the back. The bullet, the defense claimed, ricocheted and then traveled 78 feet before striking Steinle.
The prosecution has always maintained that Garcia Zarate had the gun all along, aimed it at Steinle and fired. But, because, he had little experience with guns, the bullet ricocheted first, a common mistake made by amateurs.
The gun used to shoot Steinle was stolen in San Francisco from the personal vehicle of a federal park ranger four days earlier. The agent works for the Bureau of Land Management, which is being sued by the Steinle family.
A number of witnesses testified in the trial, including police officers and several people who saw Garcia Zarate at the scene, along with several CSI investigators and forensic experts.
The trial began on Oct. 23, 2017.
The jury had a number of choices to make. They could have gone with a second degree verdict, involuntary manslaughter or consider a first degree murder verdict.