SF Pier Shooter Will Face Jury on Murder Charge

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez will be tried for second degree murder in the fatal shooting of Kathryn Steinle on San Francisco’s Pier 14.
     San Francisco Superior Court Judge Brendan Conroy ordered the jury trial after Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia argued at a hearing Friday that Sanchez, 45, fired the lethal shot intentionally.
     “This was no accident,” Garcia told Conroy. “He had in his hands an instrument of death and he used it.”
     Sanchez, a seven-time convicted felon in the United States illegally, confessed to firing the bullet that killed 32-year-old Steinle as she walked along San Francisco’s Pier 14 with her father on July 1. He was released from a San Francisco jail this past March after a marijuana possession charge against him was dropped, and was seen spinning around in a chair on Pier 14 just before the shooting.
     Sanchez said he found the .40 caliber Sig Sauer handgun wrapped up in a shirt or rag under a bench along the waterfront. In June, a Bureau of Land Management ranger reported it stolen from his car in downtown San Francisco. Divers recovered the gun from the San Francisco Bay the next day.
     Though Sanchez had originally told the police that he was firing at a seal or a “black fish,” he later said the gun had gone off accidentally when he picked it up.
     Experts have already testified that Steinle was not hit directly, but that the bullet ricocheted off the pavement before striking her in the back. But prosecutors maintain that Sanchez purposely aimed at Steinle.
     In court on Friday, Garcia pointed to a photograph of Steinle and her father on the pier just before she was shot. “The defendant’s posture is completely toward Kate Steinle, who is taking a photograph of her father and a family friend. He had already pegged his target,” Garcia said. “It was as though he was playing his own version of Russian roulette. The only way the gun fired in that direction was because he aimed in that direction.”
     But Matt Gonzalez, the chief attorney with the public defender’s office, said the shooting was a tragic “freak accident.” He told Conroy – and later reporters – that Sanchez was a hapless transient scavenging for useful objects on the pier when he found the gun and it accidentally discharged.
     “He is the one person on the pier that would have investigated something on the ground that’s been discarded because it might have been useful to him,” Gonzalez said, noting that if Sanchez had wanted to kill Steinle he would have gotten closer to her or fired more than once.
     As for the shooting-at-seals story, it was something Sanchez initially made up out of fear, Gonzalez said.
     “He proffered this idea that he may have been shooting at seals, but even the police officers don’t believe it,” he said. He added that Sanchez has a second grade education and was “trying to put out an accident explanation for what happened because he doesn’t understand American jurisprudence. You have to contextualize all of these things.”
     Gonzalez said Sanchez told him it was an accident. “He did not have the gun prior to picking it up wrapped up, and he did not know it was a gun until it fired, and he threw it because he didn’t want it to keep firing.”
     Conroy’s ruling simply means that a jury will decide between finding Sanchez guilty of second degree murder, involuntary manslaughter or acquitting him. Because of his prior convictions, he faces 43 years to life if convicted of second degree murder with a gun.
     Sanchez is due back in court on Sept. 18.
     After Friday’s hearing, District Attorney spokesman Max Szabo said, “We’re confident that there is sufficient evidence to prove the crime. We look forward to trial.”

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