The lead homicide detective in the Kate Steinle case testified Wednesday about the dramatic twelve hours that followed Steinle’s death, beginning with the first 911 call to report a shooting on Pier 14 and ending with a four-hour interrogation.
Prosecutor Diana Garcia played a video of the interrogation in court, and argued that it shows Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, who is now on trial for second-degree murder, confessing that he shot Steinle. In cross-examination, the defense presented a different view of the video.
Responding to questioning from Garcia, Lt. Anthony Ravano from the Bayview Station’s homicide detail described arriving at the crime scene at the Embarcadero on July 1, 2015.
“I remember a pool of blood on the pier,” Ravano said.
As other officers canvassed the area, searching for a man seen fleeing the scene, Ravano interviewed witnesses on the pier, collecting their statements and photos of the crime.
Early in her examination, Garcia projected one such photo on two screens flanking the courtroom. The image, taken by a tourist, offered the jury a picturesque view of the Bay Bridge with Pier 14 in the foreground. At Garcia’s instruction, Ravona used a laser pointer to locate three figures, barely visible, believed to be Steinle, her father Jim and a family friend.
At the right edge of the photograph, another figure loomed.
Garcia asked Ravono if he could identify the figure.
“I believe it might be the defendant,” Ravono said, gesturing to Garcia Zarate, who sat on the other side of the courtroom, listening to a Spanish translation of the testimony through a pair of large silver headphones.
The photo was time-stamped 6:27 p.m., just minutes before the shooting.
After the incident occurred, witnesses gave police a description of a man leaving the scene. At 7:20 p.m., police arrested Garcia Zarate a mile away, near the intersection of the Embarcadero and Townsend.
After being detained in the back of a patrol car for several hours, the defendant was eventually taken to the Hall of Justice around midnight, Ravano testified.
Just after 1 a.m., investigators put him in an interrogation room, where Ravano and Sgt. Chris Canning joined him at around 1:50 a.m. It was quickly determined that a Spanish interpreter was needed, so Ravano and Canning summoned Officer Martin Covarrubias, a certified translator, to the room.
As she prepared to show an hour-long video excerpting the four-hour interrogation, Garcia asked Ravano to address their conversation with the defendant. They told Garcia Zarate, she said, that they had several pieces of evidence linking him to the crime, including gunshot residue, DNA from the recovered gun and five eyewitness accounts of him shooting Steinle.
None of those claims were true, Ravano testified.
“Did you have five witnesses?” Garcia asked.
“No,” Ravano replied. “No one saw him shoot.”
The witness defended making those claims. Lying in an interrogation is both common and allowed, so long as it doesn’t involve telling a suspect that they’ll receive leniency in exchange for a confession, Ravano testified.
“It’s just another tactic to help motivate him, to elicit a more truthful response,” he explained.
The first few minutes of the interrogation footage show Garcia Zarate, dressed in a dark jacket and jeans several sizes too big for his small frame, slumped in a chair. Throughout the video, he appears confused.
After reading him his Miranda rights in Spanish, Officer Covarrubias asks Garcia Zarate when he was born.
“1863,” he replies, an impossible date.
Early on in the interrogation, Garcia Zarate denies ever being on the pier. When officers show him photos of himself taken after his arrest, he denies that they are photos of him.
Eventually, however, Garcia Zarate admits to being on the pier but insists that he didn’t shoot Steinle. Then, when pressed, he says he did.
“Did you fire the shot?” Ravano asks.
“Yes,” Garcia Zarate replies.
But later in the meeting, he changes his story: “When I got there, there was a rag. I stepped on it, it fired, and I grabbed it and tossed it.”
This last account is consistent with the defense that Garcia Zarate’s attorney, public defender Matt Gonzalez, is arguing in court.
In Gonzalez’s retelling of that evening, he has argued that his client found the gun wrapped in a T-shirt under a bench by the pier. The gun accidentally went off, Gonzalez said in his opening argument, as Garcia Zarate was inspecting the bundle. It later turned out that the gun had been reported stolen from a U.S. Bureau of Land Management vehicle days before the shooting.
In a video of the interrogation shown in court, Garcia Zarate goes back and forth, insisting that the gun went off after he stepped on it, but answering affirmatively when asked if he fired the weapon.
Each time Ravano or Canning asks him why he did something, he says, “I don’t know.”
Toward the end of the video, Canning kneels by Garcia Zarate and puts his hand on his shoulder.
“As difficult as the truth can be, the truth is always the best,” he says. “So please tell us the truth. No more lies.” Then he asks Garcia Zarate if he pulled the trigger.
“Yes,” Garcia Zarate said.
“And the girl was five feet from you?”
In his cross-examination, Gonzalez circled back to this exchange. He reminded Ravano that the bullet hit the ground before striking Steinle, ricocheting from nearly 80 feet away.
Gonzalez asked Ravano to confirm that it was a witness who told him that Garcia Zarate had been standing five feet away from Steinle when the shot was fired. Then he asked how many witnesses Ravano had spoken to before going into the interrogation with his client.
Ravano replied that he had spoken to a total of six: four at the crime scene, and two at the Hall of Justice.
Shortly into Gonzalez’s examination, Judge Samuel Feng called for a break. When the jurors returned, he announced that the trial would recess until the following day.
Speaking outside of the courtroom, Gonzalez addressed the inconsistencies in his client’s statement during the interrogation, attributing them to fatigue, lack of education, and “mental state issues.”
“The fact that very skilled and experienced and educated interrogators can get a second-grade-[educated] Mexican immigrant to adopt what they’re saying, like that Kate Steinle was five feet away when the gun discharged — that doesn’t make it true,” he said.
Gonzalez said that he plans to begin his defense on Monday, and that closing statements from both sides will likely take place the following week. Whatever the verdict, the outcome of the trial is guaranteed to spark controversy.
Before his arrest, Garcia Zarate, a Mexican national, was living in the United States illegally. He has been deported five times in the past and had been released from jail just before the shooting, a fact that was not disclosed to Immigration and Customs Enforcement because of San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city.
President Donald Trump spoke out about the case during his campaign for president, placing it at the center of a national debate about immigration law and the rights of sanctuary cities.
Those leaving the trial late Wednesday afternoon were reminded of this as they walked past a cluster of protesters brandishing signs and American flags on the Hall of Justice steps.