"Justice was rendered, but it was not served." -- Jim Steinle, Kate Steinle's father, told the San Francisco Chronicle in the wake of the verdict.
The acquittal last week of the person charged with killing Kate Steinle left many in Kate's hometown of Pleasanton feeling betrayed by the justice system and outraged.
Attorneys for Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a 45-year-old Mexican national and convicted felon in the U.S. illegally, convinced the jury that Garcia Zarate picked up a gun he found and it accidentally fired, with the bullet ricocheting before killing 32-year-old Steinle on Pier 14 in San Francisco in July 2015.
Garcia Zarate was able to enter the U.S. illegally six times, and was set to be deported when Steinle was killed.
However, San Francisco's "Sanctuary City" policy allowed Garcia Zarate to remain here -- homeless and not contributing to society in a positive manner -- when he was released from San Francisco jail custody that April after a drug charge was dismissed, without federal immigration officials being told. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee continues to defend the policy.
The Nov. 30 verdict, though, was shocking and set off a firestorm of comments of disbelief, shock and outrage through the media outlets covering the story, including the Pleasanton Weekly.
Most understand the technicalities that led to Garcia Zarate not being found guilty of first-degree murder or even second-degree murder, specifically prosecutors' failure to prove intent to fire the gun at Steinle or toward the pier crowd. However, it is difficult to understand how Garcia Zarate, who was holding the gun that shot the bullet that killed Kate, was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon defended the work of his prosecutors on the Steinle case, including the decision by prosecutors in closing arguments to ask jurors to consider a first-degree murder verdict rather than the second-degree or manslaughter charges.
"If there was any failure in the preparation or presentation of this case, the responsibility is mine and mine alone," Gascon told reporters this week. We'll find out next election whether Gascon is held accountable for those prosecutorial miscalculations.
Adding insult to injury, the Public Defender's Office announced Monday it will appeal the only charge Garcia Zarate was found guilty of -- being a felon in possession of a firearm.
It is understandable that lax border control and blatant disregard for federal immigration policies make us angry. If Garcia Zarate hadn't been on that pier, would Kate have died in her father's arms that day? Doubtful.
It is also understandable that the verdict provokes anger because the acquittal feels like more of a political power play than justice. If Garcia Zarate was a legal immigrant or U.S. citizen, would this case have become such a hot-button issue? Doubtful.
But Kate's death has been exploited for political means since that horrible day in 2015.
U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin), who represents the 15th Congressional District that includes Pleasanton, knew Kate growing up and remains in contact with her family.
"I respect our justice system, but I disagree with the verdict," Swalwell, a former Alameda County prosecutor, told the Weekly. "I pray for Kate's family and I hope that when her name is spoken it is to remember what she contributed to our community, and not a way of advancing anyone's political agenda."
In the wake of the shooting, "Kate's Law" was drafted to toughen punishment for criminal offenders who re-enter the U.S. illegally.
Swalwell was one of two-dozen Democrats who voted in favor of the Republican-sponsored bill June 29, and it has passed the House of Representatives. Yet it languishes in the Senate.
At the time, Swalwell said, "(Kate's) heinous murder was a tragedy and we still grieve today, wishing she was still with us. Sadly, we can't bring Kate back, but lawmakers can work to try and better protect our communities from criminals hurting people. This bill is not perfect ... but it does improve our ability to punish individuals who repeatedly break the law and to deter those who may do so."
We stand with Congressman Swalwell on needing to enhance punishment of criminal offenders who illegally enter the U.S. over and over with seemingly no consequences.
We also look forward to following the Steinle family's pending lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. It was an agency-issued firearm that fired the bullet that killed Steinle, after it was stolen when a ranger lackadaisically stored his backup duty weapon in a backpack stuffed under the front seat of his SUV parked on The Embarcadero.
Let's channel our frustration and anger about the Steinle case by encouraging officials to finally pass "Kate's Law" as well as other commonsense legislation, to make the Bay Area safer for everyone.