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Murder Trial, Involving Man In U.S. Illegally, Expected To Last A Month


Opening statements come today in a San Francisco murder trial. This is a case that first received national attention when Donald Trump, then a presidential candidate, used it to press his immigration stance.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Kate Steinle - gunned down in the sanctuary city of San Francisco by an illegal immigrant...


TRUMP: ...Deported five previous times.

INSKEEP: That was Trump's description. And now the facts go on display. The trial is expected to focus more on the murder and less on the politics, as KQED's Marisa Lagos reports.

MARISA LAGOS, BYLINE: Kate Steinle was shot in the back as she walked along the waterfront in San Francisco. The suspect in the case, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, is an undocumented Mexican national who had recently been released from San Francisco jail. Before that, he was serving time in a federal prison for illegal re-entry. Her death became a rallying cry for Trump and others angry at so-called sanctuary policies and liberal cities like San Francisco that don't cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. But district attorney spokesman Max Szabo says prosecutors' only goal is justice for the Steinle family.


MAX SZABO: The issues for us are, you know, whether he pulled the trigger - and if he did, if he did so with implied malice.

LAGOS: The defense will argue that the shooting was an accident, that Garcia Zarate found a gun wrapped in a T-shirt, and it went off as he was unwrapping it. The bullet ricocheted off the ground and hit Steinle, killing her. But public defender Matt Gonzalez says the murder charge is political.

MATT GONZALEZ: If he was not a Mexican immigrant with prior felony convictions, he would not be charged with this crime.

LAGOS: Gonzalez will also argue it matters where the gun came from and why it was on the streets of San Francisco to begin with. What both sides do agree on is that it was stolen from the car of a federal park ranger who left it unsecured. That ranger will be called to testify. While Kate Steinle's death became swept up in the presidential campaign, jurors aren't being asked to consider the political questions. They'll just decide if Garcia Zarate is guilty of murder. The trial is expected to last about a month. For NPR News, I'm Marisa Lagos in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF RRAREBEAR'S "MOON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Marisa Lagos