A victory for justice and a stumble for Senate Republicans…. (More)

“A vindication for the rights of immigrants”

You probably don’t know Jose Ines Garcia Zarate’s name. The quest for page clicks and ad revenues made this case all about Kate Steinle, the 32-year-old white, blonde, pretty daughter of a San Francisco lawyer. Dad and daughter were together on Pier 14 in July, 2015 when a single shot rang out. The bullet struck Kate Steinle in the back. Her final words were: “Dad help me.”

The man holding the gun was Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a 45-year-old Mexican citizen who has circulated in and out of U.S. prisons for drug and immigration offenses. He had recently been released from federal prison to the San Francisco jail on a marijuana charge. When that was cleared up, the city let him go. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had issued a hold-for-deportation request but no warrant, and San Francisco authorities require a federal warrant to hold prisoners who have no state or local charges pending.

Within hours, Garcia Zarate became simply the “illegal alien” who “murdered” Kate Steinle. Right-wing pundits demanded and Republicans sponsored various iterations of “Kate’s Law,” statutes that would have required stricter sentences and/or faster deportations for undocumented immigrants who were convicted of crimes. The God-King made the Steinle case a centerpiece of his dark, threatening acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.

Garcia Zarate’s name was not the only fact you probably didn’t know about the case.

You probably didn’t know that the bullet that killed Steinle ricocheted off the cement sidewalk. Forensic experts estimated that it hit the ground about 36 inches from Garcia Zarate’s foot before bouncing up and striking Steinle.

You probably didn’t know that police interrogated Garcia Zarate for four hours, that his account of the shooting changed as they asked different questions, to the point that it wasn’t clear whether the homeless man understood his interrogators.

You may have known that the gun was reported stolen from a Bureau of Land Management agent’s car four days before the shooting, but you probably didn’t know that type of gun has no safety switch and has a reputation for accidental discharges.

You probably didn’t know that Garcia Zarate claimed to have found the gun wrapped in a cloth or shirt, under the bench where he was sitting, and that a surveillance video showed several people standing around that bench hours earlier. He said he picked up the gun and it went off. Frightened by the noise, he threw the gun into the bay, where divers retrieved it a day later.

But a San Francisco jury heard all of those facts, and yesterday they found Garcia Zarate not guilty of murder, manslaughter, or even negligent homicide:

Garcia Zarate showed little emotion when the verdict was read, but hugged his attorneys. Public Defender Jeff Adachi, whose office represented Garcia Zarate, said his client was “extremely relieved.”

“He knew what was at stake – his life was at stake,” Adachi said. “I think he feels tremendous sympathy for Kate Steinle and her family – we do as well – but unfortunately these types of horrible, tragic accidents happen every day.”
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Defense attorney Francisco Ugarte suggested a different lesson, saying, “From day one, this case was used as a means to foment hate, to foment division, to foment a program of mass deportation … and I believe today is a vindication for the rights of immigrants.”

Indeed the prosecution tried to argue both sides of the same coin, that the pistol was a “high-quality weapon” that would not fire accidentally … and that the bullet skipped off the ground because the gun went off before Garcia Zarate had time to finish aiming it at Steinle. Needless to say, the defense and ultimately the jury had issues with that.

Predictably, the God-King was outraged by the verdict. But RedState’s Sarah Rumpf wonders if the right-wing noise machine deliberately withheld and twisted facts to fit the story they wanted to believe:

Before the killing, Garcia Zarate had been released from a San Francisco jail despite a standing federal deportation order. He had been deported five times before. This made him a very effective villain for Trump’s border security campaign messages – proof that sanctuary city policies kill! – and it’s natural to be sympathetic about Steinle, who died in her father’s arms at the far too young age of 32.

The trouble with a politically-charged case like this is that there are many who seek to benefit from twisting, if not outright lying, about what really happened. And the facts here are far more complicated than any campaign slogans would lead you to believe.

She walks through the facts I laid out above and concludes:

So was Steinle’s killing an accident? Maybe. The defense put forward a plausible explanation that it was, and that was enough for the jury to find reasonable doubt after six days of deliberation, and that’s enough for a not guilty verdict.

What’s not an accident: the many political figures and media personalities who have distorted this case for various reasons. These misrepresentations are a disservice to our justice system, and to Kate Steinle’s family as well.

Garcia Zarate was not acquitted on all charges. He was a convicted felon – but with no history of violence or gun-related crimes – when he picked up the gun. So the jury found him guilty of unlawful possession of a firearm. With credit for the time he has already served, he will probably spend another few months in a California prison. Immigrations officials have a warrant on him now, so he’ll be deported after his prison sentence.

I call that a victory for justice.

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“We have an alternative, frankly, tax increase”

And yesterday the Senate Parliamentarian spiked the GOP tax scam:

But just as the Senate was strolling through the complex Senate steeplechase to enactment of the bill, something bad happened off-camera with respect to a deficit trigger provision sacred to a handful of Republican deficit hawks. The idea, accepted by the GOP leadership, was to provide for a tax increase that would kick in if the tax bill produced terrible budget deficit outcomes. Unfortunately for Republicans, Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that the trigger provision did not pass muster under the budget rules governing this bill. Knowing this, trigger supporters Jeff Flake and Bob Corker – backed, Republicans feared, by one or more other colleagues – delayed a Senate vote on a motion-to-recommit by Democrats that might have killed the bill.

So now they have to rewrite the bill to reduce its deficit impact, and guess what they’re considering:

“It doesn’t look like the trigger is going to work, according to the parliamentarian,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said. “So we have an alternative, frankly: a tax increase we don’t want to do to try to address Sen. Corker’s concerns.”

Among the options being considered: reinstating the alternative minimum tax for wealthy individuals and C-corporations, but only after a several-year delay. Or lowering the corporate tax rate to 25% rather than 20%. My guess is that, once they touch base with their wealthy donors, they’ll end up taking it out of working families.

Meanwhile, the Treasury Department Inspector General agreed with Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s demand for an answer about the department’s supposed analysis of the tax plan. Secretary Steve Mnuchin promised that his analysts would review the plan, but so far they haven’t released a report to Congress or to the American people.

Now that Senate Republicans are rewriting the bill, the Mnuchin’s people could still put out their report. But I won’t hold my breath. My guess is they found the same thing everyone else has: the bill will explode the deficit but produce few if any new jobs. Easier to just pretend they lost their homework….

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Photo Credit: San Jose Mercury News

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Good day and good nuts