A San Francisco jury which found an illegal immigrant not guilty of murder in the shooting death of Kate Steinle has set off a fresh firestorm of recrimination from archconservatives, including U.S. President Donald Trump, who in 2015 first sensationalized the case of Jose Garcia’s killing of the white victim by calling Garcia, a 45-year-old who reportedly has a second-grade education, “this animal that shot that … beautiful woman.”
At the time, Trump also turned the killing into a reason for building a border wall and for criticizing so-called “sanctuary cities.” Even Hillary Clinton complained about sanctuary cities, saying “we’ve deported, we’ve deported, we’ve deported but he ends back up in our country, and I think the city made a mistake.” Likewise, even Americans sympathetic to immigrants expressed dismay that Garcia had been released from detention by local authorities shortly before Steinle’s killing.
But now, with Garcia’s November 30 stinging exoneration on all but a lesser weapons charge (the defense said Garcia found the gun, it discharged accidentally and ricocheted), Trump and his cohorts have unleashed a new tirade. “The jury was not told the killer of Kate was a 7-time felon,” the president tweeted December 1, failing to say that not mentioning a defendant’s history of offenses is a hallmark of the U.S. criminal trial system.
Trump lambasted the jury’s decision as “disgraceful” and “a complete travesty of justice,” throwing in, “BUILD THE WALL!” Similarly, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions condemned San Francisco’s decision to “protect criminal aliens,” omitting mention that Garcia’s felonies were nonviolent – for example, re-entry into the country and possession of $US20 worth of marijuana. And neither politician mentioned that after Steinle’s death, San Francisco amended its sanctuary-city law.
Contrasting with the ire from on high was the subdued tone of local prosecutor Alex Bastian, who pointed out that “jurors are the ones who make a determination on a case and we will respect that decision.”
Garcia’s defense team made sharper responses. Although Public Defender Matt Gonzalez, speaking to a gaggle of cameras outside the courtroom, expressed his “sincere condolences to the Steinle family,” he didn’t let Trump off the hook for his pre-trial “animal” remark. The president and his team “are themselves under investigation by a special prosecutor in Washington D.C.,” Gonzalez emphasized, and may “soon avail themselves of the presumption of innocence.”
California law professor and legal analyst Alex Landon ripped Trump’s statements as “irresponsible.”
“The bottom line is he knows very little about the case. First-degree murder would require premeditation, willfulness and deliberation. How could this be if the bullet ricocheted? Clearly it was a tragedy and clearly the man is here unlawfully, but even the D.A. said he respects the jury’s decision.
“It reminds me of what Trump did with the Central Park Five [black teenagers who did time in the rape of a jogger but were later exonerated by DNA evidence]. He used racism to push repressive laws, even took out full page ads in New York newspapers calling for the return of the death penalty. This is classic Goebbels [Hitler’s minister of propaganda]—you try to inflame the public by twisting something.”
Even 14 years after the New York boys were freed, Trump clung to his version. “The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty,” he told CNN in 2016, totally ignoring the DNA evidence. “The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous.”
Garcia is not likely to have a rosy future, as federal immigration authorities say they plan to take custody of and deport him as soon as possible.