SF Pier Shooter Could|Face Murder Charge

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A judge declined to rule Thursday on whether confessed San Francisco pier shooter Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez will stand trial on murder charges.
     San Francisco Superior Court Judge Brendan Conroy will decide Friday whether prosecutors have enough evidence to try Sanchez, 45, for second degree murder.
     Sanchez, a seven-time convicted felon in the United States illegally, confessed to firing the bullet that killed 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle as she walked along San Francisco’s Pier 14 with her father on July 1. He maintains it was an accident, but prosecutors say the shooting was intentional.
     “We’re putting our hopes in tomorrow’s ruling,” Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney with the public defender’s office, said after the hearing. “[Judge Conroy] sees a lot of murder cases. He sees cases that have real malice aforethought. If he rules against us, we’ll have to present our case to a San Francisco jury and the jury gets to decide second degree murder, manslaughter, acquittal; they’ll have a range of options. The case doesn’t end tomorrow.”
     Sanchez said he found a .40 caliber Sig Sauer handgun under a bench along the waterfront. The gun had been reported stolen in June by a Bureau of Land Management ranger, who said it was taken from his car in downtown San Francisco.
     Public Defender Christopher Gauger said that while police had sufficient evidence to detain Sanchez, they did not have probable cause to arrest him.
     “A homeless person walking away from a gunshot cannot be probable cause to arrest,” he said.
     Conroy said Wednesday that Sanchez’s confession would be admissible at trial even if police did not have probable cause to arrest him, but acknowledged concern with the length of time Sanchez was held in a police car before his formal arrest.
     The shooting happened around 6:30 p.m., and San Francisco Police officer Andrew Bryant testified that Sanchez sat in the back of a patrol car for three hours while police investigated the crime scene.
     “The court is more than a little concerned about the length of time the defendant was sitting in the police car,” Conroy said. “It’s a big step to take someone off the street to a police station when he has sat in the car for three hours. It’s a close call.”
     Conroy said he had to consider “whether this was a situation where police were rounding up people when they had the barest of information. I don’t find that’s what happened here.”
     He said this factor made the confession admissible.
     “That did not come as a surprise to us,” Gonzalez said. “The real decision is the issue of what the jury gets to consider.”
     Witnesses told police that they saw a man wearing a grey hoodie, black coat and a t-shirt that said “CALI” walking briskly away from the scene where Steinle was shot.
     In court on Thursday, 25-year-old student Aryn Carpenter said she was staying at the Hotel Griffon across the street from the pier when she heard the shot. She testified that she ran to the window and saw what appeared to be a black male with a bald spot who “was the only person walking away.”
     “He looked like a person of interest because of his lack of concern,” Carpenter testified.
     She described Sanchez to the court. “My first instinct was that his skin was darker. He had short, nappy hair with a bald spot.” A considerably lighter-skinned, shorter-haired Sanchez sat in Conroy’s courtroom on Thurday, often rubbing his face and eyes with his hands and turning to glance at the clock.
     Carpenter took three photos of Sanchez with her phone and gave them to police. Her photos, along with descriptions and photos given by other witnesses, were used to nab Sanchez as he sat on a bench along the Embarcadero.
     Bryant said he was initially thrown off by the description of Sanchez as black, but recognized the bald spot and clothing.
     Public defenders played a video of Steinle lying motionless on Pier 14 as a man, later revealed to be her father, hovered desperately over her. Onlookers gathered around, some stopping and pulling out their phones to call for help while others paused only to glance at Steinle before moving on.
     Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia said witnesses were drawn to Sanchez because his flight appeared purposeful. “He was very hastily moving away when everyone else was in a state of confusion and trying to help,” she said, adding that the witnesses “all came to the same conclusion about the man who left the pier with a purpose.”
     But Gonzalez had another interpretation.
     “The video supports that other people did not stop to give aid, they kind of looked and walked by,” Gonzalez said, adding, “I actually don’t believe he was aware that someone was shot on the pier.”

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