A California judge approved the confession of an illegal immigrant accused of shooting 32-year-old Kate Steinle on the San Francisco waterfront thereby paving the way for an upcoming trial.
Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a 45-year-old five-time deportee, faces charges of second-degree murder in the random shooting death of Steinle that set off a massive immigration debate, according to the USA Today.
Defense attorneys argued Thursday that Lopez-Sanchez’s confession was illegally obtained because police couldn’t have known he shot Steinle, and Lopez-Sanchez was only arrested because he was a homeless man acting strangely.
Several witnesses took photos of Lopez-Sanchez as he left the scene and police used them to identify him. Lopez-Sanchez, who is homeless, admitted shooting Steinle, but says he fired the gun accidently.
Defense attorneys say Lopez-Sanchez found the gun, reported stolen from a ranger in June, under a bench wrapped in a T-shirt. They say the gun went off as he picked it up, according to CBS San Francisco. The pistol is commonly used by law enforcement, and officers have reported unintended discharges in the past.
Steinle was shot in the back as she walked along the San Francisco Embarcadero waterfront near Pier 14 with her family July 1.
Lopez-Sanchez was released from San Francisco jail in April after a 20-year-old charge of marijuana possession was dropped. He is a five-time deportee with seven prior felony convictions, according to ABC 7 News.
Republican presidential candidate and billionaire Donald Trump seized on the killing as proof America needs to build a wall on its southern border after it was discovered local authorities released Lopez-Sanchez despite a federal request to hold him.
The national debate then began on the status of so-called sanctuary cities where local law enforcement is prohibited from contacting federal immigration authorities.
San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi was criticized by the mayor as well as his own deputies for releasing Lopez-Sanchez. Mirkarimi defended himself, saying city law required him to release Lopez-Sanchez and a federal warrant would have been required to notify immigration authorities.
Steinle’s parents have gone on record calling federal and local law enforcement negligent and responsible for the death of their daughter.
Lopez-Sanchez has pled not guilty to killing Steinle. A ballistics expert testified the bullet struck Steinle only after first striking the pavement and defense attorneys argued he didn’t know he had fired the gun.
The charges of second-degree murder carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]