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Trial date for Kate Steinle’s alleged killer could be set next week

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Defense attorneys Matt Gonzalez and Francisco Ugarte speak in San Francisco Superior Court on Friday. (Jonah Owen Lamb/S.F. Examiner)

The trial of an undocumented Mexican man charged with murder for allegedly killing a San Francisco woman on a pier in 2015 will likely be scheduled next week and a key witness will testify.

Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, 54, appeared shackled in San Francisco Superior Court on Friday morning as the two sides in the case discussed several matters that have delayed the start of the trial.

The matters over scheduling and a federal agent’s witness were settled and the case should begin soon, according to both sides in the case.

“I think it’s going to start in the next couple weeks,” Chief Deputy Public Defender Matt Gonzalez, who is representing Lopez-Sanchez, said. “Both sides are really saying to the court: ‘There’s no impediment.’”

Lopez-Sanchez allegedly fired a stolen Bureau of Land Management agent’s gun, killing Kate Steinle, 32, as she walked down Pier 14 with her father July 1, 2015.

The undocumented immigrant had been released from County Jail before the shooting, which is in part due to San Francisco’s controversial sanctuary policies. He had been brought to San Francisco on a year’s old drug possession warrant and once here the charges were dropped.

Requests for information about him from Immigration and Customs Enforcement were not responded to because of The City’s sanctuary and Sheriff’s Department policies, which at the time barred communication with ICE unless an inmate had committed a violent crime.

One of the two main sticking points dealt with Friday morning had been a motion by the District Attorney’s Office to push the case back farther since Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia was working on another case at the same time. That motion was withdrawn.

Additionally, a conflict was resolved between the defense and the BLM about when or if their agent — Ranger John Woychowski — would testify. Woychowski will testify, but the scope of that testimony will be decided on by whichever judge is assigned to the case.

Lopez-Sanchez, who wore a bright orange sweatshirt, pants and handcuffs, and had a chain around his waist, spoke to his attorneys when he entered court. During the brief hearing, he stood beside an interpreter who translated the proceedings into Spanish.

The defense, which has also asked for and will receive the maintenance records of the gun used in the killing, has argued that their client accidentally fired the gun, and a ricocheted bullet hit the ground and then killed Steinle.

“The weapon was pointed at the ground at the time of the discharge,” Deputy Public Defender Francisco Ugarte said Friday.

District Attorney’s Office spokesperson Max Szabo stated after the hearing that the key question in the case, which a jury will have to decide, is, “Did he pull the trigger? And was there implied malice?”

The next appearance in the case is set for Tuesday at 9 a.m. in Department 22.

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