SAN FRANCISCO – Jose Inez Garcia-Zarate pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to being a felon in possession of a firearm and to being an alien unlawfully present in this country in possession of a firearm, announced United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Special Agent in Charge Patrick Gorman.
A federal grand jury indicted Jose Inez Garcia-Zarate on December 5, 2017. According to the indictment, on July 1, 2015, Garcia-Zarate, who is a citizen of Mexico and reportedly 51 years old, possessed a semi-automatic pistol and multiple rounds of ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (felon in possession of a firearm) and 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5) (possession of a firearm by an alien unlawfully present in the United States). In a public filing in the case, the government described that Garcia-Zarate was on Pier 14 of the Embarcadero in San Francisco on July 1, 2015. Also on the pier were Kathryn “Kate” Steinle, who was 32, her father James Steinle, and Frances “Kaye” Williams, a family friend. The three were sightseeing. At approximately 6:30 p.m., Garcia-Zarate possessed and fired a loaded semi-automatic pistol. The bullet hit Kathryn Steinle in her back, killing her. At the time of the shooting, Garcia-Zarate was a convicted felon and illegally in the United States, having previously been deported. He was also on federal supervised release from a 2011 Texas conviction.
On November 30, 2017, a prosecution by the San Francisco County District Attorney’s Office resulted in a jury convicting Garcia-Zarate of one state violation – being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of California state law – and acquitting him of homicide charges. On August 30, 2019, a California state Court of Appeals court overturned Garcia-Zarate’s conviction based on the failure of the state trial court to instruct the jury on the state’s affirmative defense of momentary possession. The ruling had no legal effect on the federal prosecution, which had already been initiated.
Garcia-Zarate made his initial appearance in federal court to face federal firearm charges on January 8, 2018, immediately following his release from state custody. A federal jury trial set in January 2020 was delayed when the Court ordered Garcia-Zarate to be evaluated for mental competency to stand trial. Following competency proceedings occurring throughout 2020 and 2021, a change of plea hearing was set for today.
At today’s hearing, Zarate-Garcia pleaded guilty to the two charges in the federal indictment against him, without a plea agreement. He admitted that on July 1, 2015, he was on San Francisco Embarcadero Pier 14 and possessed a semi-automatic pistol loaded with eight rounds. He admitted he knew he was an alien that was unlawfully and illegally in the United States at the time and that he had previously been convicted of a felony, including the felony of Illegal Re-Entry After Deportation for which he spent more than a year in federal prison.
Garcia-Zarate’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 6, 2022, at 1 p.m. before United States District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco. Garcia-Zarate remains in custody pending the sentencing hearing.
Each of the two violations of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) to which Garcia-Zarate pleaded guilty has a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release. However, any sentence will be imposed by the Court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Eric Cheng and Kevin Barry, with assistance from Madeline Wachs. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by ATF and the San Francisco Police Department.