It has been more than two years since the day James Steinle went for a stroll on Pier 14 in San Francisco, arm in arm with his daughter, Kate, and heard a sickening noise pierce the air.
The 32-year-old was shot in the back, the bullet ripping into her heart.
“As she fell, she said, ‘Help me, Dad!’ ” he recalled months later. “That’s my bedtime story every night.”
On Monday, jurors heard opening statements in the trial of the man charged with Steinle’s murder – Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an undocumented immigrant with a record of nonviolent felonies and a history of sneaking into the United States from Mexico.
Never miss a local story.
Queue the chants of “Build the wall.”
Don’t expect the murder trial to remain confined to the court of law. It will most certainly stray into the court of conservative public opinion, and when that happens, it will be up to everyone else to remember what actually matters.
What doesn’t matter is that Garcia Zarate is Mexican. Nor does it matter how he got across the border.
It also doesn’t matter that San Francisco is a sanctuary city in what is now a sanctuary state. And it really doesn’t matter that some people insist building a wall along the border with Mexico would have prevented Garcia Zarate from illegally entering the United States six times.
Republican politicians and conservative media will surely make all of these irrelevant points and more, just as they did after Steinle was shot. At the time, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump shamelessly used the case as political football, as did House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Breitbart News covered the case, using headlines like: “Media Cover Up Illegal Immigrant Criminality.”
And Bill O’Reilly, when he still had a job at Fox News, told viewers that “the mayor and city supervisors of San Francisco are directly responsible for the murder of Kate Steinle and the Obama administration is complicit.” He also called for the arrest of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.
Meanwhile, details began to trickle out about Garcia Zarate that actually do matter and should matter this week in the San Francisco Hall of Justice.
Was he mentally ill? Video from a police interview that surfaced suggested as much, but the question remains unanswered. Was he homeless? Photos shot by an amateur photographer days before the murder raised the question.
And if both are true, why was he apparently released from the San Francisco jail with no support services?
Also, how did Garcia Zarate get the gun?
Defense attorneys will argue that the shooting was an accident, saying that it went off as he was pulling it out of a T-shirt that he found. The bullet then ricocheted off the pier and hit Steinle about 80 feet away.
Prosecutors will argue that Garcia Zarate recklessly shot at people, the prerequisite for the second-degree murder conviction.
But we do know the gun itself was stolen from the car of a ranger for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The ranger, who was never punished and has since been promoted, carelessly left his.40-caliber Sig Sauer in a backpack on the seat of his car parked near Pier 14.
How Garcia Zarate got the gun remains a mystery. He says he found it.
The Steinle family deserves the facts – and that means a case that’s tried the court of law, not the echo chamber that is the court of conservative public opinion.