SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – A Mexican man who was acquitted of killing a woman on a San Francisco pier in a case that became a national hotspot was found unable to go to trial on Friday for federal arms accusations stand.
District Court judge Vince Chhabria said in a court ruling that a psychiatric consultant had ruled that Jose Inez Garcia-Zarate was not authorized “for a mental illness that is not currently being treated,” in court to stand.
Chhabria said he would meet lawyers from both sides next week to discuss the next steps. If either side objects to the results, a hearing would likely be needed to test Garcia-Zarate’s competence. If neither side disputes the results, the court will discuss whether the defendant should be treated locally for a mental illness or sent to a federal agency outside of California.
Defense attorney Tony Serra said he would contest the finding.
“He is entitled to a hearing,” said Serra. “I protest that he is competent enough for this case.”
Friday’s decision is the latest delay in a case that has sparked a national debate on immigration and conservation policy.
Garcia-Zarate should be on trial in January for two cases of illegal gun possession. Chhabria, however, postponed the process to a review because of concerns about his “obvious mental illness”.
President Donald Trump and other members of his government have repeatedly referred to the case as the reason for the country’s tightening immigration policy. Garcia-Zarate lived illegally in the country and had been deported five times before the shootout.
The California court jury did not find him guilty of killing Kate Steinle in 2015. However, they sentenced him to be a criminal with a gun, which resulted in a three-year sentence.
A state appeals court reversed the conviction last August and found that the jury had received inappropriate instructions from the trial judge. The federal prosecutor then accused him of having weapons in 2017.
Garcia-Zarate admitted to holding the weapon that Steinle was killed with. But he said it shot accidentally when he found it wrapped in a t-shirt under a bench on the pier where Steinle was walking with her father. The gun belonged to a US Bureau of Land Management ranger who reported it as stolen from his parked car.
The case led to criticism of San Francisco’s urban policy, which prevented local officials from working with federal immigration officials on deportations.
The San Francisco sheriff department released Garcia-Zarate from prison a few weeks before the shootout, although the federal government had arrested him until immigration officials could detain him.