SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The man who confessed to shooting Kathryn Steinle on a San Francisco pier pleaded not guilty Friday, as he was arraigned for second-degree murder and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Appearing in orange sweats in San Francisco Superior Court, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez answered "not guilty" to the charge that he willfully killed Steinle with a handgun on July 1.
Sanchez, a seven-time convicted felon in the United States illegally, has confessed to firing the bullet that killed the 32-year-old Steinle as she walked along San Francisco's Pier 14 with her father on July 1.
He claims he found the .40 caliber Sig Sauer handgun that day under a bench along the waterfront. In June, a Bureau of Land Management ranger reported it stolen from his car in downtown San Francisco.
After today's arraignment, Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney with the public defender's office, told reporters that Steinle's death was a "terrible misfortune" that cannot be justified, but that a jury would conclude the shooting was accidental. He shied away from questions about how this case relates to race and immigration. He said those issues were part of a "legitimate discussion," but not one that belongs in his client's trial.
He said the public defender's office is more interested in the four-day gap between when the gun was stolen from the ranger's car and Steinle's death. Sanchez does not have a violent past and did not intend to kill Steinle, he said, and that someone homeless like Sanchez would probably rather sell the gun.
"This is a very valuable object, and somebody who is destitute would be trying to take that object and turn it into money for food," Gonzalez said.
Francisco Ugarte, also with the public defender's office, said, "We're looking at how the weapon came available," adding that, "This has the classic features of an accidental firearm discharge." Stolen guns and guns without trigger locks are the societal ills actually implicated in Steinle's death, according to Ugarte.
San Francisco District Attorney spokesman Max Szabo said his office does not have additional comments at this stage of the case.
Two weeks ago, Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia told the court that "this was no accident" and that Sanchez "had in his hands an instrument of death and he used it."
Sanchez, 45, faces a sentence of 45 years to life if convicted.
Having waived his right to a speedy trial, Sanchez will return to Judge Bruce Chan's courtroom in December to set a trial date.
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