Kate Steinle murder trial: San Francisco inspector describes ricochet of fatal shot

  • FILE - In this July 7, 2015 file photo, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, right, is led into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, left, and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garciaor, center, for his arraignment at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco.  Photo: Michael Macor, San Francisco Chronicle

  • FILE - This undated photo provided by the San Francisco Police Department shows Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez.  Photo: Associated Press

  • FILE - This July 17, 2015, file photo shows flowers and a portrait of Kate Steinle displayed at a memorial site on Pier 14 in San Francisco, Calif.  Photo: Paul Chinn, San Francisco Chronicle

  • Jose Ines Garcia Zarate listens during the first day of his murder trial on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif.  Garcia Zarate is accused of shooting Kate Steinle in 2015. Photo: Vicki Behringer, Special To The Chronicle

  • Chief Deputy Public Defender Matt Gonzalez gives his opening statements during the Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, second from left, murder trial on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif.  Garcia Zarate is accused of shooting Kate Steinle in 2015. Photo: Vicki Behringer, Special To The Chronicle

  • James Steinle (left), the father of Kate Steinle, walks through a corridor at  the Hall of Justice on the first day of the Kate Steinle muder trial on Monday, October 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle

  • Liz Sullivan, the mother of Kate Steinle, walks through a corridor at  the Hall of Justice on the first day of the Kate Steinle muder trial on Monday, October 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle

  • George Gasc�n (second from left) San Francisco District Attorney, leaves Department 13 during a break on the first day of the Kate Steinle murder trial at the Hall of Justice on Monday, October 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle

  • San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi (second from left) walks through the Hall of Justice on the first day of the Kate Steinle murder trial on Monday, October 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle

  • Liz Sullivan (foreground right), the mother of Kate Steinle; Brad Steinle (second from left), the brother of Kate Steinlde, and his wife Amy (third from left) walk through the Hall of Justice on the first day of the Kate Steinle muder trial on Monday, October 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle

  • Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney in the public defender�s office, speaks to the media at the Hall of Justice on the first day of the Kate Steinle murder trial on Monday, October 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle

  • SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 06:  A well-wisher drops off flowers at the site where 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle was killed on July 6, 2015 in San Francisco, California. According to police, Steinle was shot and killed by Francisco Sanchez as she walked with her father on San Francisco's Pier 14 on July 1. Sanchez had been previously deported five times.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

  • Liz Sullivan and James Steinle at their home in Livermore, Calif., the mother and father of Kate Steinle. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

  • Liz Sullivan at her home in Livermore, Calif., the mother Kate Steinle who was shot and killed on Pier 14. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

  • Brad Steinle, brother of Kathryn Steinle — who was gunned down in S.F. — hugs a victim’s family member during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. Photo: Mark Wilson / Mark Wilson / Getty Images / 2015 Getty Images

  • Jim Steinle, father of Kathryn Steinle, killed on a San Francisco Pier by a man previously deported several times, arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary hearing in Washington, Tuesday, July 21, 2015.  Jim Steinle told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Congress should push forward with efforts to close legal loopholes that currently allow local authorities to decide if they will cooperate with federal immigration authorities.   (AP Photo/Molly Riley) Photo: Molly Riley, Associated Press



Photo: Michael Macor, San Francisco Chronicle

FILE – In this July 7, 2015 file photo, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, right, is led into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, left, and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garciaor, center, for his arraignment at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco. 

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FILE – In this July 7, 2015 file photo, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, right, is led into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, left, and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garciaor, center, for

… more


Photo: Michael Macor, San Francisco Chronicle


FILE – This undated photo provided by the San Francisco Police Department shows Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez. 

FILE – This undated photo provided by the San Francisco Police Department shows Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez. 


Photo: Associated Press


FILE – This July 17, 2015, file photo shows flowers and a portrait of Kate Steinle displayed at a memorial site on Pier 14 in San Francisco, Calif. 

FILE – This July 17, 2015, file photo shows flowers and a portrait of Kate Steinle displayed at a memorial site on Pier 14 in San Francisco, Calif. 


Photo: Paul Chinn, San Francisco Chronicle


Jose Ines Garcia Zarate listens during the first day of his murder trial on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif. Garcia Zarate is accused of shooting Kate Steinle in 2015.

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate listens during the first day of his murder trial on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif. Garcia Zarate is accused of shooting Kate Steinle in 2015.


Photo: Vicki Behringer, Special To The Chronicle


Chief Deputy Public Defender Matt Gonzalez gives his opening statements during the Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, second from left, murder trial on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif. Garcia Zarate is accused of shooting Kate Steinle in 2015. less
Chief Deputy Public Defender Matt Gonzalez gives his opening statements during the Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, second from left, murder trial on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif. Garcia Zarate is … more


Photo: Vicki Behringer, Special To The Chronicle


James Steinle (left), the father of Kate Steinle, walks through a corridor at the Hall of Justice on the first day of the Kate Steinle muder trial on Monday, October 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif.

James Steinle (left), the father of Kate Steinle, walks through a corridor at the Hall of Justice on the first day of the Kate Steinle muder trial on Monday, October 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif.


Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle


Liz Sullivan, the mother of Kate Steinle, walks through a corridor at the Hall of Justice on the first day of the Kate Steinle muder trial on Monday, October 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif.

Liz Sullivan, the mother of Kate Steinle, walks through a corridor at the Hall of Justice on the first day of the Kate Steinle muder trial on Monday, October 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif.


Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle


George Gasc�n (second from left) San Francisco District Attorney, leaves Department 13 during a break on the first day of the Kate Steinle murder trial at the Hall of Justice on Monday, October 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif. less
George Gasc�n (second from left) San Francisco District Attorney, leaves Department 13 during a break on the first day of the Kate Steinle murder trial at the Hall of Justice on Monday, October 23, 2017 in … more


Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle


San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi (second from left) walks through the Hall of Justice on the first day of the Kate Steinle murder trial on Monday, October 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi (second from left) walks through the Hall of Justice on the first day of the Kate Steinle murder trial on Monday, October 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif.


Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle


Liz Sullivan (foreground right), the mother of Kate Steinle; Brad Steinle (second from left), the brother of Kate Steinlde, and his wife Amy (third from left) walk through the Hall of Justice on the first day of the Kate Steinle muder trial on Monday, October 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif. less
Liz Sullivan (foreground right), the mother of Kate Steinle; Brad Steinle (second from left), the brother of Kate Steinlde, and his wife Amy (third from left) walk through the Hall of Justice on the first day … more


Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle


Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney in the public defender�s office, speaks to the media at the Hall of Justice on the first day of the Kate Steinle murder trial on Monday, October 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif.

Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney in the public defender�s office, speaks to the media at the Hall of Justice on the first day of the Kate Steinle murder trial on Monday, October 23, 2017 in San Francisco, Calif.


Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle


SAN FRANCISCO, CA – JULY 06: A well-wisher drops off flowers at the site where 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle was killed on July 6, 2015 in San Francisco, California. According to police, Steinle was shot and killed by Francisco Sanchez as she walked with her father on San Francisco’s Pier 14 on July 1. Sanchez had been previously deported five times. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) less
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – JULY 06: A well-wisher drops off flowers at the site where 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle was killed on July 6, 2015 in San Francisco, California. According to police, Steinle was shot and … more


Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images


Liz Sullivan and James Steinle at their home in Livermore, Calif., the mother and father of Kate Steinle.

Liz Sullivan and James Steinle at their home in Livermore, Calif., the mother and father of Kate Steinle.


Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle


Liz Sullivan at her home in Livermore, Calif., the mother Kate Steinle who was shot and killed on Pier 14.

Liz Sullivan at her home in Livermore, Calif., the mother Kate Steinle who was shot and killed on Pier 14.


Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle


Brad Steinle, brother of Kathryn Steinle — who was gunned down in S.F. — hugs a victim’s family member during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill.

Brad Steinle, brother of Kathryn Steinle — who was gunned down in S.F. — hugs a victim’s family member during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill.


Photo: Mark Wilson / Mark Wilson / Getty Images


Jim Steinle, father of Kathryn Steinle, killed on a San Francisco Pier by a man previously deported several times, arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary hearing in Washington, Tuesday, July 21, 2015. Jim Steinle told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Congress should push forward with efforts to close legal loopholes that currently allow local authorities to decide if they will cooperate with federal immigration authorities. (AP Photo/Molly Riley) less
Jim Steinle, father of Kathryn Steinle, killed on a San Francisco Pier by a man previously deported several times, arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary hearing in Washington, Tuesday, July 21, 2015. … more


Photo: Molly Riley, Associated Press


Kate Steinle murder trial: San Francisco inspector describes ricochet of fatal shot


The bullet that killed Kate Steinle skipped off the concrete of San Francisco’s Pier 14 before striking her in the back, jurors were told Monday, but what that means is a crucial point of contention between city prosecutors trying to prove murder and defense attorneys who say the infamous 2015 shooting was an accident.

Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia introduced the ricochet evidence on the fifth day of the Superior Court trial of 45-year-old Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a homeless immigrant with a record of drug crimes whose release by San Francisco authorities 2½ months before the shooting — despite a federal request to hold him for deportation — ignited a political firestorm.

Steinle had been strolling with her arm around her father when she was shot on July 1, 2015. The prosecution believes Zarate pulled the trigger and fired toward Steinle, an intentional act showing the malice needed for a second-degree murder conviction. But defense attorney Matt Gonzalez said the gun accidentally discharged after his client found it in a T-shirt or cloth under his seat on the pier and unwrapped it.

Into this dispute came city police Inspector John Evans, now retired, who testified Monday that he had returned to Pier 14 four days after the shooting, after investigators determined that the bullet that killed Steinle showed “evidence of having struck a hard object.”

After ruling out nearby chairs, railings and garbage cans, Evans said, his team went over the concrete surface of the pier and found an indentation about 12 to 15 feet from where Garcia Zarate was believed to have been sitting and about 78 feet from where Steinle had fallen. As part of his investigation, he testified, he worked to see if he could create an unobstructed line connecting the three points.

“Given your personal knowledge from the investigation you conducted, any forensic evidence you gathered … do you have an opinion on how this shot that killed Kate Steinle occurred?” Garcia asked Evans.

“A human being held a firearm, pointed it in the direction of Ms. Steinle and pulled the trigger,” Evans responded. “This is the only way this could have occurred that is reasonable.”

Evans said inexperienced shooters pressed for time tend to “jerk the trigger,” pulling it before raising the muzzle to the correct level.

But the scenario is complicated by the fact that no one is sure exactly where and how Garcia Zarate was sitting, according to Evans’ testimony. There were two chairs in his suspected location, and witnesses said he had been spinning around in a seat just before the shooting.

“We don’t have a locked point on where the bullet originated from,” Evans said.

Evans testified that he could not conduct a trajectory badysis because he did not have two fixed points, something Gonzalez, of the city public defender’s office, focused on in his cross-examination. He suggested Evans’ main concern had been to establish a line unobstructed by another object, not study if it was possible for the bullet to change directions after hitting the concrete, which could support Garcia Zarate’s claim of an accident.

Evans conceded under questioning by Gonzalez that, even with the forensic evidence, if he did not know what Garcia Zarate was thinking he could not say if the defendant was pointing the gun at the time the bullet discharged.

“I don’t know what’s in anyone’s mind,” Evans said.

“You’re guessing, aren’t you?” Gonzalez asked.

“No,” Evans responded.

Later, Evans testified of the shooting, “I cannot say it was an accident.”

“Or not,” Gonzalez said.

“Or not,” Evans said.

“Thank you,” Gonzalez said.

The defense attorney has said he plans to call expert witnesses to testify that the .40-caliber Sig Sauer handgun used in the shooting has a light trigger pull that could possibly be set off if the trigger is caught on something — an badertion that the prosecution has disputed.

The handgun had been stolen from a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger’s car four days before the shooting, when the off-duty ranger drove into the city and parked along the Embarcadero. No one has been arrested in the burglary.

The Steinle family is suing the Bureau of Land Management in a lawsuit that is pending. Following Steinle’s death, legislators pushed to tighten requirements for securing weapons, especially in unattended cars, for gun owners and law enforcement officers.

Steinle’s death sparked critics to push against San Francisco’s sanctuary policies. Garcia Zarate had been on track for a sixth deportation when the Sheriff’s Department, relying on those policies, released him from jail despite a federal request to hold him for deportation. He had ended up in the city on a transfer from federal custody in March 2015, thanks to old allegations — soon dismissed — that he fled marijuana charges in 1995.

San Francisco has stood by its sanctuary laws, with officials saying they benefit public safety by ensuring that immigrants, including witnesses to crimes, feel comfortable working with authorities. Gov. Jerry Brown this month signed a bill to create a statewide sanctuary policy.

Vivian Ho is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter:@VivianHo


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