Ballistics Expert Says Pier 14 Homicide Suspect Appears to Have Shot Victim Accidentally

A ballistics expert who testified today at the preliminary hearing of a man suspected in the fatal shooting of a woman at San Francisco’s Pier 14 last month said the shooting appears to have been accidental and that Steinle does not appear to have been targeted.

James Norris, a forensic science consultant and former director of the San Francisco Police Department’s Forensic Services Division, said that when the gun was fired it was “clearly aimed at the ground,” not at 32-year-old San Francisco resident Kathryn “Kate” Steinle, who was fatally struck after the bullet ricocheted off the cement pier in broad daylight on July 1.

The suspect, a Mexican national who goes by numerous names including Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, has been deported from the United States five times and previously convicted of numerous felonies.

Lopez-Sanchez sat in court for the third day in a row today, as Norris gave his testimony.

Norris said that the gun was aimed at the ground when it was discharged, causing the bullet to hit the ground after exiting the gun’s muzzle.

Once the bullet struck the ground, it created a divot in the cement and became misshapen. At this point, the bullet became a “non-spinning irregular shaped object” and its path became determined by chance, Norris explained on the stand today before San Francisco Superior Court Judge Brendan P. Conroy and members of the media.

Where the bullet goes next, “you really couldn’t predict,” Norris said.

He explained to the judge that if he knew the exact point where the bullet exited the gun’s muzzle and if he knew the exact point where the victim was when she was struck by the bullet, he might be able to determine a general area where the bullet would likely go after ricocheting.

But, Norris said, because both the location of the muzzle and the location where the victim was struck are not fixed points, it would not be possible for him to determine a general area where the bullet would likely go after hitting the cement.

Norris, emphasizing that the gun was not aimed at Steinle when fired, explained that the victim was located about 90 feet from the suspect when she was struck, whereas the divot on the pier was only 12 to 15 feet from the suspect.

At Tuesday’s hearing, testimony from three police investigators as well as photographic evidence captured by tourists appear to place the suspect at the crime scene.

San Francisco’s chief medical examiner Dr. Michael Hunter, who took the stand on Wednesday, said the victim suffered an atypical, rectangular entrance wound, consistent with a ricocheted bullet.

The judge continued Lopez-Sanchez’ preliminary hearing until 9 a.m. on Sept. 3 to allow additional witnesses to take the stand.

If Judge Conroy finds that there is probable cause to believe Lopez-Sanchez committed the crime of murder, the defendant will stand trial.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

Please make sure your comment adheres to our comment policy. If it doesn't, it may be deleted. Repeat violations may cause us to revoke your commenting privileges. No one wants that!