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Key witness in Kate Steinle murder trial is federal agent whose gun was stolen

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Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez is on trial for the 2015 murder of Kate Steinle. Steinle was walking down Pier 14 with her father when she was allegedly shot by Lopez-Sanchez. (Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner)

Lawyers representing an undocumented Mexican immigrant who is standing trial for murder for allegedly killing a San Francisco woman in 2015 are resting much of their case on claims that Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez accidentally fired the weapon.

Lopez-Sanchez, 54, allegedly shot and killed Kate Steinle on July 1, 2015, as she walked down Pier 14 with her father. Since then, the case has garnered national attention — much of it focused on San Francisco’s sanctuary city policies, which some have blamed for Steinle’s death.

Lopez-Sanchez, who has never been convicted of a violent crime, had been released from County Jail several months before the shooting and was not turned over to federal immigration authorities because of The City’s sanctuary policies.

Now, as Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia and Chief Deputy Public Defender Matt Gonzalez prepare for the trial, the defense is locked in a fight with federal officials to make sure the Bureau of Land Management ranger whose stolen gun was used in the killing testifies.

The ranger is John Woychowski, according to a report by KQED that referenced court documents. Woychowski has reportedly not responded to a subpoena, and BLM officials have claimed that Lopez-Sanchez’s defense team must go through special steps to have one of their agents testify.

Woychowski’s testimony could be important to the defense, because they want to know about his semi-automatic, .40 caliber SIG Sauer P329 and whether or not it had any problems in the past. Since the defense contends the gun went off by accident in Lopez-Sanchez’ hand, the gun’s history matters. Had it, for instance, ever misfired or gone off accidentally or had a faulty mechanism?

“It’s such a critical part of the narrative,” Gonzalez said about the ranger’s testimony and gun.

Still, Gonzalez admits it’s unclear what he may get out of Woychowski.

“It would be good just to put him on the stand cold,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez also said he has requested the service record of the weapon from the BLM, but they have yet to hand over that information.

The civil case filed by Steinle’s family against The City and the federal government, noted Gonzalez, claimed that Steinle’s death was, in part, due to their negligence.

How Lopez-Sanchez obtained the gun is unclear. He told a television reporter, who interviewed him after the incident, that he found it.

Lopez-Sanchez, who remains in custody, is set to appear in court Friday at 9 a.m. The defense was given until then to work out an informal compromise with the BLM. He was last in court July 21 for the case, which has yet to be assigned to a judge, even though Lopez-Sanchez asserted his right to a speedy trial.

It is unclear if the trial will be further delayed. Garcia has told the court she has a conflicting trial she must attend and hopes the Lopez-Sanchez matter can be put over.

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