SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — A Mexican man accused of the murder in the 2015 fatal shooting of Kate Steinle on a city pier, a killing that became a national debate over immigration, has pleaded guilty in federal court. 

On Monday, Jose Inez Garcia-Zarate pleaded guilty to being a “felon in possession of a firearm and to being an alien unlawfully present in the country in possession of a firearm”. 

According to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California — on July 1, 2015, Garcia-Zarate, who is a Mexican citizen and reportedly 51-years-old, possessed a semi-automatic pistol and multiple rounds of ammunition. 

In a public filing in the case, the government described that Garcia-Zarate was on Pier 14 of the Embarcadero in San Francisco — where 32-year-old Steinle was also there with her father James Steinle, and family friend Frances “Kaye” Williams as they were sightseeing. 

At approximately 6:30 p.m Garcia-Zarate possessed and fired a loaded semi-automatic pistol — striking Kathryn in her back, killing her.  

At the time of the shooting, Garcia-Zarate was a convicted felon and illegally in the United States, having previously been deported.  

He was also on federal supervised release from a 2011 Texas conviction. 

On November 30, 2017, a prosecution by the San Francisco County District Attorney’s Office resulted in a jury convicting Garcia-Zarate of one state violation – being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of California state law – and acquitting him of homicide charges. 

On August 30, 2019, a California State Court of Appeals court overturned Garcia-Zarate’s conviction based on the failure of the state trial court to instruct the jury on the state’s “affirmative defense of momentary possession”.  

According to court documents, the ruling had no legal effect on the federal prosecution, which had already been initiated. 

Garcia-Zarate made his initial appearance in federal court to face federal firearm charges on January 8, 2018, immediately following his release from state custody.  

A federal jury trial set in January 2020 was delayed when the Court ordered Garcia-Zarate to be evaluated for mental competency to stand trial.  

“Following competency proceedings occurring throughout 2020 and 2021, a change of plea hearing was set for today,” a press release said. 

At Monday’s hearing, Zarate-Garcia pleaded guilty to the two charges in the federal indictment against him, without a plea agreement.  

According to court documents, he admitted that on July 1, 2015, he was on San Francisco Embarcadero Pier 14 and possessed a semi-automatic pistol loaded with eight rounds.  

Additionally, he admitted he knew he was an alien that was unlawfully and illegally in the United States at the time and that he had previously been convicted of a felony, including the felony of Illegal Re-Entry After Deportation for which he spent more than a year in federal prison.

Garcia-Zarate’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 6, 2022, at 1 p.m. before United States District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco — he remains in custody pending the sentencing hearing. 

Each of the two violations, to which Garcia-Zarate pleaded guilty, has a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release.