A San Francisco jury has found Jose Ines Garcia Zarate not guilty of murder in a much-publicized 2015 shooting. Donald Trump, who last year used Steinle’s killing to argue that illegal immigrants are a threat to America, similarly exploited the verdict on Twitter:
One right-wing commentator referred to the jury as “illegal trash”:
But it turns out that both the president and the right-wing media have been presenting a wildly distorted picture of the case. As Sarah Rumpf argued at the conservative website Red State, the “trouble with a politically-charged case like this is that there are many who seek to benefit from twisting, if not outright lying, about what really happened. And the facts here are far more complicated than any campaign slogans would lead you to believe.”
The central lie was that the killing of Steinle was a clear-cut case of murder. But such a charge requires a high burden of proof: Prosecutors must show that there was clear intent before the act. In this case, as Rumpf’s review of the evidence shows, there were plenty of reasons for believing this was, as the defense claimed, an accidental killing by a homeless man who came across a gun. “We have a defendant with zero connection to Steinle,” Rumpf wrote. “He had a history of drug crimes but no known violent crimes. The bullet that killed Steinle hit the ground and then ricocheted upwards. There was a video possibly showing another group of people disposing of the gun where Garcia Zarate said he found it.”
Ironically, the very politicization of the case by right-wing media may have been partly responsible for the not guilty verdict. “The prosecutors were under tremendous political pressure,” Rumpf noted. “People wanted Kate Steinle’s killer’s head on a platter, even before Donald Trump ever tweeted her name.” This may be why prosecutors sought a murder conviction, rather than the more plausible charge of manslaughter. But these truths are too uncomfortable for many right-wing readers, who have barraged Rumpf with anger and spite. In Trump they trust.