A San Francisco Superior Court Judge has continued the preliminary hearing for the Pier 14 homicide suspect until Friday, at which point he is expected to make a decision as to whether the case will go to trial.
Today, the fourth day of a preliminary hearing for Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Brendan Conroy watched a video taken of the Pier 14 homicide victim moments after the shooting occurred.
Conroy said that police officers appear to have been within their rights to detain Lopez-Sanchez as a person of interest in the homicide of 32-year-old San Francisco resident and Pleasanton native Kathryn “Kate” Steinle on July 1.
However, both the defense and the prosecutor agree that the shooter was not seen holding a gun by witnesses nor caught doing so on video footage.
Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant and Mexican national, who had been deported five times and has seven prior felony convictions, including four involving narcotics, appeared in court today, just two days after the Steinle family filed wrongful death claims against the San Francisco and federal officials.
The victim’s mother, father and brother gathered on the steps of San Francisco City Hall on Tuesday with their attorney Frank Pitre, to discuss their decision to take legal action.
Pitre said San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi “made himself the king, judge and jury” when it came to the city’s cooperation with federal authorities and that the gun used in the shooting, which had been previously reported stolen by a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger while he was traveling on official business in San Francisco, was left in the ranger’s car in a backpack.
Pitre said a claim had been filed against federal officials because the gun was not kept under lock and key, which is against federal regulations.
Kate Steinle’s brother, Brad Steinle said Tuesday that if the federal ranger had properly secured the gun and if Mirkarimi hadn’t told his deputies to violate federal law, “this wouldn’t have happened” and Kate would still be alive.
The shooting and arrest have triggered a national debate on San Francisco’s Sanctuary City policy, which limits cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities.
Lopez-Sanchez had been released from San Francisco County Jail in April despite a request from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to detain him so that ICE field agents could deport him for a sixth time.
Mirkarimi, who has borne the brunt of the criticism following the incident, has argued that cooperating with the ICE request would have violated San Francisco’s Sanctuary City and Due Process for All policies, as well as the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Conroy said today that while “clearly” officers had grounds to arrest the suspect and that the suspect in the photos “looks very much” like the person in court today, he expressed his concern that there was a significant delay in Lopez-Sanchez being read his Miranda rights as well as an extensive length of time during which Lopez-Sanchez was made to sit in the back of a police car and then the police station before being questioned.
Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia, the prosecutor in the case said, however, that “There is circumstantial evidence that he is the shooter,” referring to Lopez-Sanchez.
A witness, who was staying in the Hotel Griffon across from Pier 14 the evening of the homicide, described what she saw after hearing a gunshot and looking out her window.
The witness, 25-year-old Aryn Carpenter, a bartender and psychology student from California’s Central Valley region, said she noticed a figure on the ground surrounded by people and that everyone except a woman on a cellphone and a male figure was walking toward the victim.
Carpenter said the woman on the cellphone was stopped and appeared to be calling 911. She said the woman was looking around as if trying to figure out where she was so as to pass the information along to get help for the victim.
The male figure, however, was walking away from the pier “briskly.”
He then crossed the street heading toward the hotel. Carpenter said he was the only person who she could see that was walking away.
When he crossed toward the hotel, Carpenter was concerned that he might have a gun, so she ducked.
When she looked again, she spotted the male figure and began to take photos of the person with her cellphone.
She then went down to the pier and handed the photos over to police, as she considered the figure a person of interest.
Carpenter said the reason he looked like a person of interest was due to his lack of concern about what was going on, when everyone else seemed to be confused or trying to help.
A police officer also recounted his interview with a woman on the pier. She too gave police a photo of the person of interest.
The photos given to police by both witnesses appear to be of the same person, but were taken from different angles and at different times in the evening.
The defense presented Judge Conroy with a video today of the moments following the shooting, taken from a building across the Embarcadero from Pier 14.
The video shows Steinle on the ground and figures moving around her, some on the ground with her, some on cellphones and others standing seemingly in shock.
Ballistic experts who testified in the preliminary hearing last week said that the bullet that killed Steinle appears to have ricocheted off of something before hitting her, suggesting that she was not the intended target.
Defense attorney Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, said, “It’s a tragedy. Period.”
He said, however, that Judge Conroy sees a lot of murder cases, many with “real malice aforethought,” and that he is hopeful that the judge will change the charge from second-degree murder to manslaughter.
“The case doesn’t end tomorrow,” Gonzalez said, noting that if the judge chooses to go to trial, the case would then go before a jury.
Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News