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Mexican man acquitted of murder pleads guilty to firearms charges


A Mexican man acquitted of the 2015 murder of a woman who was fatally shot on a San Francisco pier that became a national immigration flashpoint has pleaded guilty to federal firearms charges

Jose Inez Garcia Zarate, 51, pleaded nearly seven years after shooting Kate Steinle on July 1, 2015, as she walked on the crowded seafront. The case has helped fuel a fierce national debate over immigration and sanctuary cities, which limit local cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

In late 2017, a San Francisco Superior Court jury acquitted Garcia Zarate of various charges, including murder. But shortly after his acquittal, federal prosecutors charged him with two counts of unlawful possession of firearms.

The federal firearms charges had been pending since 2017 after U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria raised concerns about Garcia Zarate’s mental capacity. Two doctors diagnosed Garcia Zarate with schizophrenia and declared him unfit to stand trial because he could not follow the legal process.

One of the doctors told the court last month that Garcia Zarate was fit to stand trial after taking his medication regularly.

On Monday, Chhabria asked Garcia Zarate to summarize the charges against him to confirm his competence.

“The charges are due to the fact that I was in the country illegally and that I had a firearm,” Garcia Zarate said in Spanish through a court interpreter.

Garcia Zarate had been deported five times and was wanted for a sixth deportation proceeding when he fatally shot 32-year-old Steinle.

He admitted to having the gun that killed Steinle, but said she accidentally fired when he found her wrapped in a T-shirt under a bench at Pier 15, where she was walking with her father.

The shooting has become a major campaign issue in several national and local races across the country. President Donald Trump repeatedly brought up the shooting during his 2016 campaign to bolster his case for tougher immigration policies and his opposition to so-called sanctuary cities that limit cooperation with immigration officials.

Garcia Zarate faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. He is due to be sentenced on June 6.

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This version has been updated to correct the spelling of Jose Inez Garcia Zarate.

ABC News

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