SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The lawyer for a Mexican national charged with fatally shooting a young San Francisco woman as she walked on a city pier wants his client’s murder charge dismissed, saying the killing that rekindled the national debate over illegal immigration was an accident.
The judge canceled a hearing scheduled for Friday, saying he wants more time to consider the issue. Attorneys will argue the matter on March 24.
Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and other charges in the death of Kate Steinle, 32. His lawyer, Matt Gonzalez, says the charge is too harsh because the shooting was inadvertent.
Steinle was shot in the back during an evening stroll with her father and a family friend along San Francisco’s popular waterfront on July 1. She died in her father’s arms.
Lopez-Sanchez told police that he found a gun wrapped in a T-shirt under a bench on the pier and that it fired accidentally when he picked it up. The weapon belonged to a Bureau of Land Management ranger, who reported it was stolen from his car in downtown San Francisco in June.
Ballistic experts testified at a September preliminary hearing that the shot ricocheted off the pier’s concrete surface before striking Steinle.
“A champion marksman could not accurately hit a target after first striking a concrete surface,” Gonzalez said.
Prosecutors say the second-degree murder charge is appropriate. If the judge dismisses the case, the district attorney could refile less-severe charges.
Lopez-Sanchez was in the country illegally after being released from a San Francisco jail despite a request from federal immigration authorities that local officials keep him in custody for possible deportation. Lopez-Sanchez was previously deported five times to his native Mexico.
Former Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said jailers released Lopez-Sanchez after local prosecutors dropped a marijuana-related charge. Mirkarimi said he was following a city policy of not cooperating with federal immigration officials.
San Francisco and other municipalities across California have enacted so-called sanctuary policies of ignoring requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold inmates thought to be in the country illegally for deportation proceedings.
Mirkarimi has said his department requires federal officials to get a warrant or court notice to hold an inmate facing possible deportation.
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has repeatedly mentioned the killing of Steinle as he calls for a border wall and mass deportations to curb illegal immigration.