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Prosecution witness in Steinle trial blocked from returning to stand

Trial expected to resume next Monday

A key prosecution witness who defense attorneys have accused of credibility issues was prevented by a judge's ruling from returning to the stand Monday in the trial of the man accused of fatally shooting Kate Steinle on San Francisco's Pier 14 in 2015.

Retired San Francisco crime scene investigator John Evans had been expected to testify again Monday in the trial of Jose Inez Garcia Zarate, a 45-year-old homeless Mexican citizen, as a rebuttal witness for prosecutors working to discredit defense expert testimony.

Evans previously testified in the trial that the bullet that struck Steinle in the back on July 1, 2015, traveled in a straight line despite ricocheting off the pier, and stated that "the only way this could have occurred that is reasonable" was if a person had pointed the gun at Steinle and pulled the trigger.

Defense attorneys, however, have argued that the shooting was accidental, occurring after Garcia Zarate found the stolen gun on the pier and picked it up. Two firearms experts during the defense case testified that the bullet changed course after it ricocheted and that the shooting was likely to have been unintentional.

Defense attorneys Monday raised questions about Evans' credibility after learning late last week of allegations in a federal civil lawsuit that he gave misleading testimony in two murder trials against Jamal Trulove, who was charged with the 2007 fatal shooting of Seu Kuka. Trulove was convicted in the first trial in 2010, but retried and acquitted in 2015 after a successful appeal of the first verdict.

Evans testified in those trials that the shooter's position could not be determined from the position of shell casings.

In support of that testimony, he misstated the findings of a San Francisco Police Department study, saying it found most shell casings landed in front of the shooter when in fact it found they mostly landed behind and to the right of the shooter, according to the civil suit.

Defense attorneys learned of the Trulove lawsuit and allegations from defense expert witness Jim Norris, who testified against Evans' evidence in both the Steinle and Trulove cases.

"I would say that what he said in court is refuted by textbooks in the field, not just by me but literally by textbooks that are written on the subject," Norris said Monday outside of court.

Prosecutor Diana Garcia was prevented from bringing Evans back to the stand Monday by a ruling from Judge James Feng, who found his testimony was not proper rebuttal evidence, according to the public defender's office.

Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney for the public defender's office, said he had been prepared to bring into question Evans' credibility as a witness based on the Trulove allegations if he testified again.

In addition to Norris, Gonzalez said he had also lined up testimony from the San Francisco police officer who conducted the study Evans mischaracterized in his Trulove testimony.

"I think anyone who has or has ever had Evans as a witness in their case should seriously consider revisiting those cases to see if there was misconduct," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said defense attorneys have filed a motion challenging the prosecution's failure to notify them of the issues regarding Evans' credibility. It is unclear what action Feng might take if he ruled favorably on such a motion.

Gonzalez said he expects to remind jurors that Evans was not offered as an expert witness by the prosecution and that his testimony may not have the same weight as that of qualified experts.

Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, said prosecutors did not make determinations of people's credibility "based on unsubstantiated allegations made in a civil lawsuit."

The trial is expected to resume next Monday, when prosecutors and defense attorneys will present their closing arguments.

— Bay City News Service

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