Immigrant Suspect Faces Tough Battle Fighting Murder Charge

29 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Ballistics expert: ‘Richochet’ killed Kate Steinle.

Even if the suspect at the center of a national immigration debate accidentally fired the shot that killed a young woman on San Francisco’s Pier 14, it may not help his case. (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS) SAN FRANCISCO — The bullet that killed Kate Steinle on Pier 14 last month as she walked with her father was fired accidentally, a ballistics expert testified Thursday on behalf of the man charged with her murder. “The gun was pointed at the ground,” James Norris, the former head of the San Francisco Police crime lab, said repeatedly on the stand Thursday during the preliminary hearing of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican national and five-time deportee who has ignited a national debate on illegal immigration and drawn the ire of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.As a response to the killing of Cal Poly grad Kathryn Steinle, Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill restricting transfers of illegal immigrants from federal to local custody. [LA Times] SB 57, authored by senators Bob Huff and Shannon Runner, would require local law enforcement to have an outstanding felony warrant for a person scheduled for deportation before seeking custody from federal immigration officials.Lopez-Sanchez, who had been deported from the U.S. five times and was released from jail in April under San Francisco’s sanctuary policies, stands charged with murder.

A jury can still conclude that simply handling a semi-automatic pistol in a crowded tourist area was so reckless that he’s guilty of second-degree murder rather than a less severe manslaughter allegation, legal experts said. Out of court, Norris called the shooting an accident. “You couldn’t do this on purpose,” he said of intentionally ricocheting a shot and hitting a person roughly 100 feet away. Norris stated that, while he was not conceding to the fact that the weapon firing off was accidental, Steinle was however struck by a rebounding bullet at a random angle, bouncing off from the pier. “If you were trying to shoot somebody, this is not the way to shoot somebody,” Norris said in his testimony. “It’s not going to fly true like it would have if it hadn’t struck something,” This contradicts testimony given on Wednesday by police inspector John Evans, who said that the bullet was traveling in a straight line toward the victim, suggesting that Lopez-Sanchez was intentionally pointing the gun toward Steinle. The bill would need to pass both houses of the legislature with a two-thirds vote because it contains a clause that would make the law take effect immediately. After serving a four-year federal sentence for illegal re-entry, Lopez-Sanchez was transferred to San Francisco’s jail to face 20-year-old marijuana charges.

The gun belonged to a Bureau of Land Management ranger, who had reported that his service weapon was stolen from his vehicle in downtown San Francisco in June. He was released in April after prosecutors dropped the pot counts and despite a federal request to detain him until immigration authorities could pick him up. His release from jail sparked intense debate over a San Francisco sanctuary law that allows such requests to be ignored — a policy many other cities and counties have also adopted.

Steinle’s father traveled to Washington, D.C., after his daughter died in his arms to lobby lawmakers to abolish those policies Prosecutors are seeking a second-degree murder conviction against Lopez-Sanchez that would carry a minimum sentence of 15 years to life. Ballistic experts testified during the hearing that the shot ricocheted off a concrete walkway about four yards from the spot where Lopez-Sanchez was sitting before striking Steinle farther down the pier.

Lopez-Sanchez, just like everyone else, has the right to due process and we hope that the public does not prejudge him because of his immigration status”, Francisco Ugarte, another attorney for Lopez-Sanchez, said outside court Wednesday. William Portonova, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in Sacramento, called the ricochet a good piece of evidence but agreed Lopez-Sanchez may have difficulty showing he didn’t act recklessly in handling the gun on the pier. San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said he was following city law when jailers released Lopez-Sanchez after a 20-year-old marijuana possession charge was dropped. Hanlon and the other legal experts raised the possibility that the defense could try to move the case outside of San Francisco, because of extensive of publicity.

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