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Trial of man charged with murder of Kate Steinle set to begin

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Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, right, is lead into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, left, and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garciaor for arraignment on July 7, 2015. (Michael Macor/2015 San Francisco Chronicle via Pool)
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The first proceeding in the murder trial of an undocumented Mexican citizen who allegedly killed San Francisco resident Kathryn Steinle on Pier 14 more than two years ago is set to start on Friday.

Steinle, 32, was fatally shot on July 1, 2015, allegedly by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, 54, who was arrested that same day and has since been charged with murder.

Lopez-Sanchez, who has pleaded not guilty, is set to make his first appearance in his trial proceedings on Friday before Judge Garrett Wong in Department 22 of San Francisco Superior Court.

While the trial’s start date has been officially set for Friday, the hearing may be held over or assigned to another judge. Jury selection can take days or weeks, so the opening statements may be far off, said Tamara Aparton, a spokesperson for the Public Defender’s Office.

The much-anticipated case has garnered national attention due to its links with San Francisco’s controversial sanctuary city policy, which bar city officials from cooperating with federal immigration authorities in most cases.

One example of it’s national import was last month’s action in the House of Representatives, which passed “Kate’s Law,” which would expand sentences for foreigners who try to re-enter the country after deportation.

Steinle was walking on Pier 14 with her father when a stolen gun that Lopez-Sanchez was holding went off, according to both prosecutors and Lopez-Sanchez’s defense attorney. A single shot from the pistol struck her in the upper back, and she died from her injuries soon after.

Lopez-Sanchez, who is from Guanajuato, Mexico, had been released from San Francisco County Jail several months before the shooting. Never convicted of any violent felonies, Lopez-Sanchez was transported to The City from a federal prison on a years-old marijuana possession warrant.

The charges in that case were dropped once he returned to The City. Law enforcement did not alert U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, per sanctuary city policies, and Lopez-Sanchez was released.

Before his release, ICE had asked for a notification, but the request was not honored by the Sheriff’s Department because of The City’s Due Process Ordinance.

The actions of the Sheriff’s Department came under fire, but then-Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said city law and federal court decisions prevented his department from releasing anyone to ICE if no court order has been produced.

Chief Deputy Public Defender Matt Gonzalez, Lopez-Sanchez’s lawyer, has said Lopez-Sanchez accidentally fired the pistol that killed Steinle. The gun had been stolen from the car of an agent with the Bureau of Land Management.

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