Alternate juror in Kate Steinle murder trial defends not-guilty verdict

May 04 2021 05:30 pm

There’s been a lot of outrage and confusion nationwide over the decision by 12 San Franciscans to acquit the man accused of killing Kate Steinle.

Now, an alternate juror is coming to their defense, saying they made the right call.

A reporter from our sister station KRON-TV sat down with him on Wednesday afternoon for a one-on-one interview.

“The murder charges I think didn’t hold water,” Phillip Van Stockum said. “The evidence just wasn’t there to show that he intended to kill Kate Steinle.”

Van Stockum sat through every moment that Jose Garcia-Zarate was on trial, but because he was an alternate, he did not sit through the deliberations that would ultimately result in not-guilty verdicts for the charges related to Kate Steinle’s death.

He has heard the national outcry in the media firestorm following the verdict.

Even the President of the United States has tweeted that it was a travesty of justice, which is why Van Stockum felt the need to come forward.

“…It’s clear to me that the jury did the right thing. They upheld (the) law as they were supposed to do, and the reaction of many people in the public, including as high up as the President of United States seems to indicate a misunderstanding of that, and I hope to be able to correct the record,” Van Stockum said.

He says the fact that the gun was fired from a low angle, and ricocheted off the concrete of Pier 14, more than 70 feet away from Kate Steinle was a key piece of evidence that created reasonable doubt that it was an intentional shooting.

But as to why he believes the jury made the right call in terms of involuntary manslaughter is more complex.

He says to find Garcia-Zarate guilty of that charge, it would need to be proven that he acted with criminal negligence by brandishing the weapon.

“No one ever saw him at the gun,” Van Stockum said. “No one ever saw him fire shot. No one certainly saw him brandishing a weapon.”

The undocumented immigrant was only found guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Van Stockum says he’s spoken to some of the jurors from Courtroom 13 and says they were shaken by the national outcry over their decision.

He also says he has sympathy for the Steinle family.

“I’m terribly sorry for what they’ve gone through,” Van Stockum said. “And I can’t imagine what it’s been like, especially being in the national spotlight with something so personal and so tragic. I was happy to see in their statement that they don’t have a desire for vengeance because a jury’s role is not to provide vengeance. It’s to uphold the law.”

The alternate juror had no strong opinion on the fact that the United States Attorney General says he will pursue new charges against Garica-Zarate, other than to say now that he’s been through this process.

He says he now has faith in the system.

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