There are many good things about the state of California. It has some fine ski resorts and spectacular scenery, especially in northern areas near Lake Tahoe and the Napa Valley.
However, the court system out there stinks, judging by outcomes of high profile-cases including the O.J. Simpson travesty in the 1990s and most recently Thursday’s acquittal of an illegal immigrant who killed 32-year-old Kate Steinle in San Francisco in July 2015.
Given those verdicts, it makes me wonder how they were even able to convict Charles Manson in California or Sirhan Sirhan, who assassinated presidential candidate Robert Kennedy in a crowded Los Angeles hotel.
And despite the evidence being heavily stacked against them, I doubt if either Manson or Sirhan would be found guilty in today’s climate that seems to favor criminals more than innocent victims and their families.
Victim Kate Steinle was shot in the back two years ago as she and her father strolled along Pier 14 in San Francisco.
The man accused of murdering her, Jose Ines Garcia-Zarate, an illegal immigrant from Mexico deported multiple times, had been released from jail in San Francisco, where he was being held on a drug charge. Incidentally, Garcia-Zarate was there due to San Francisco being a sanctuary city, which as a result has the blood of Ms. Steinle on its hands, also.
San Francisco refused to cooperate with federal authorities who wanted to detain Garcia-Zarate, meaning the young woman’s death could have been prevented by such cooperation.
But it happened, and Garcia-Zarate signed a confession during a police interrogation, reinforcing prosecutors’ contention that he arrived at the pier with a gun stolen from a ranger and deliberately fired it toward Steinle.
What sounded like an open-and-shut scenario somehow produced Thursday’s shocking verdict. When the case came to court, the defense suggested that the confession was improperly obtained and also pointed out that the illegal immigrant had an explanation for the gunfire.
While Garcia-Zarate supplied conflicting accounts, one story he offered was that the gun discharged accidentally when he stepped on the weapon. Defense lawyers further massaged the story to say that Garcia-Zarate found the gun wrapped in a cloth on the pier and it went off accidentally as he held it, with the bullet ricocheting off the concrete and then striking Steinle.
Even the dog who ate the homework must be rolling over with laughter at that one.
Of course, the jury bought all this despite convincing evidence about Garcia-Zarate’s guilt — just as in the O.J. case — with Steinle’s killer convicted only on a charge of possession of a firearm by a felon (even one he supposedly stepped on accidentally).
Now I know that some wacky things can occur with a jury trial, which has been true not only in California but elsewhere, including North Carolina and Virginia.
The thing to always keep in mind is that just as innocent people have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit (and maybe cleared years later through DNA testing or other new evidence), people can still be guilty despite being found innocent by a jury.
You can think of it as a game. Some high-paid defense lawyer simply does a better job than the prosecution in presenting evidence and/or manipulating it to make his or her client look more favorable and create reasonable doubt in the jury’s mind. That person might be guilty as sin, but this doesn’t mean anything if an incompetent district attorney’s office botches the case.
At the end of the day, no one is held accountable for the deaths of victims such as Kate Steinle or Nicole Brown Simpson who certainly didn’t kill themselves.
It is easy to blame weak prosecution in the Steinle murder, as well as the O.J. trial. Yet the real culprit is a lax immigration system that allowed individuals such as Jose Ines Garcia-Zarate to be in the United States in the first place.
Kate Steinle would never have been killed if Garcia-Zarate was in Mexico where he belonged.
That already inexcusable situation was further compounded by the presence of sanctuary cities such as San Francisco and Chicago, where policies provide a safe harbor for people like Steinle’s killer. They effectively are doing more to protect these criminals than their own citizens.
The only good thing that might come from the outrageous decision in the Steinle case is strengthening the resolve of the federal government to take a hard line toward illegal immigration and sanctuary cities.
In the meantime, anyone bent on a heinous crime should consider committing it in the (not so) Golden State.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.