SAN FRANCISCO — Jurors on Wednesday heard the muddled interrogation of a Mexican national on trial for the fatal shooting of a woman that touched off a fierce debate over immigration.
The San Francisco Examiner reported that prosecutors played a portion of the police interview of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate recorded several hours after Kate Steinle was shot on July 1, 2015.
Garcia Zarate was arrested about an hour after the shooting and was charged with murder. He had been deported fives times and was wanted by federal immigration officials for a sixth when Steinle was shot.
"When I was walking along, there was a rag and stuff and I stepped on it and then it fired," Garcia Zarate told police, according to the translation in the video played in court Wednesday. "I was trying to prevent the gun from firing by itself."
He also told his interrogators that he was born in 1863.
Garcia Zarate was released from the San Francisco jail several weeks before the shooting despite a request from federal immigration officials to detain him for deportation. San Francisco's so-called sanctuary city policy bans local law enforcement officials from cooperating with federal deportation efforts.
Donald Trump pointed to the incident as a reason to toughen immigration policies and build a wall along the Mexican wall while campaigning for president. As president, Trump has threatened to cut funding to cities with immigration policies similar to San Francisco.
Garcia Zarate, who was homeless at the time of the shooting, gave confusing and conflicting accounts of the shooting. Ultimately, he says he found the gun wrapped in a shirt and it accidentally fired when he picked it up. He said he then tossed it in the San Francisco Bay.
Garcia Zarate faces life in prison if he is convicted of murder. He and his lawyers argue the shooting was an accident and that he didn't intend to fire the gun, which was stolen from a Bureau of Land Management ranger several days before the shooting.
The trial continues Thursday.
Information from: The San Francisco Examiner, http://www.sfexaminer.com