SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The murder suspect at the center of a national immigration debate admitted to shooting and killing a young San Francisco woman out for an evening stroll with her father, a homicide investigator testified Tuesday.
But it still remains unclear whether Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez purposely or accidentally fired the shot that fatally struck Kate Steinle in the back as she walked along the city’s scenic waterfront in the early evening of July 1.
The second day of a preliminary hearing to determine if there’s enough evidence to schedule a murder trial continues Wednesday after three police detectives testified Tuesday.
Lopez-Sanchez has been deported five times and was wanted for a sixth removal from the country when he was released from San Francisco’s jail. He was released after local prosecutors dropped a two-decade old marijuana possession charge and despite federal officials requests to detain him further for deportation proceedings.
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Jim Steinle told police he had his arm around his daughter as they strolled along San Francisco’s popular Pier 14. Suddenly, he heard a loud “pop” and Kate Steinle slumped to the ground, moaning “Dad, help me, help me,” homicide detective Nico Discenza testified Tuesday.
“He thought her cellphone blew up,” Discenza said.
Jim Steinle has since traveled to Washington D.C. to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee and to urge lawmakers to abolish local policies of ignoring federal immigration requests for cooperation with deportations.
San Francisco and other cities and counties ignore requests from federal authorities to detain jail inmates who are thought to be in the country illegally.
San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said he was following city law when jailers released Lopez-Sanchez after a 20-year-old marijuana possession charge was dropped. But leading politicians, including top Democrats such as California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, said Lopez-Sanchez should have been detained.
Mayor Ed Lee also criticized the sheriff, saying Mirkarimi should have notified immigration officials of Lopez-Sanchez’s impending release.
Lopez-Sanchez was brought into court Tuesday heavily shackled at the waist and ankles. The slight man nervously twitched his right leg up and down and stared at the floor during most of the hearing Tuesday morning. In the afternoon, he occasionally viewed photos of a smiling Kate Steinle with her father snapped moments before she was slain.
Lopez-Sanchez has pleaded not guilty to murder charges. His public defender, Matt Gonzalez, says the shooting appears to have been accidental.
Lopez-Sanchez told a local television station in jailhouse interview that he found the gun wrapped in a T-shirt on the pier. He said it went off accidentally when he picked it up.