November 21, 2017 / 10:13 PM / a year ago

Politically charged murder trial of Mexican immigrant goes to jury

(Reuters) - A San Francisco jury on Tuesday was deliberating the fate of a Mexican man accused of murdering a woman while illegally in the United States in a case that President Donald Trump has cited in urging tighter borders and a crackdown on “sanctuary cities.”

Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, also known as Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, said he shot Kate Steinle by accident on a pier in San Francisco on July 1, 2015. He pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder. If convicted, he faces between 15 years and life in prison.

The case, sent to the jury on Tuesday afternoon, became a rallying cry for Trump in his push to halt illegal immigration and penalize so-called sanctuary cities, including San Francisco. Such cities often do not use municipal funds or resources to enforce federal immigration laws.

Sanctuary supporters say enlisting police in deportation actions undermines community trust in local law enforcement, particularly among Latinos.

Garcia Zarate, 45, had been deported to Mexico five times since first entering the United States as a juvenile.

Before the shooting, he was released from an area jail despite a request by immigration authorities he be detained for deportation, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Families for the defendant and the victim were in the courtroom on Monday as prosecutors said in their closing arguments that Garcia Zarate intentionally fired a stolen a gun at Steinle, local media reported.

“Kate Steinle was wiped from the face of the Earth in her father’s arms because of this man,” Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia said.

Defense attorneys said Garcia Zarate found the gun and it accidentally discharged, the bullet ricocheting off the ground before striking the victim.

A judge ruled last week the jury could also consider a first-degree murder charge.

In June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed “Kate’s Law,” named for Steinle, that would increase penalties for illegal immigrants who return to the United States. The bill has not passed the U.S. Senate.

Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have threatened to cut off certain federal law enforcement grants to sanctuary cities, arguing the policies endanger public safety and pointing to cases such as that of Garcia Zarate.

On Monday, a federal judge in California blocked Trump’s’ order, saying denying those funds was unconstitutional. The government is appealing.

Reporting by Chris Kenning in Louisville, Ky.; Editing by Peter Cooney

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