A single bullet ricocheted off the concrete ground of Pier 14 before it fatally struck Kathryn Steinle in the back as she walked arm-in-arm with her father, according to testimony from authorities in San Francisco Superior Court on Wednesday.
These new details could be key for the legal team of the man charged with Steinle’s murder, backing up the defense’s assertion that the fatal shooting was accidental.
“I doubt an expert marksman could make that shot, ricochet shot, off concrete surface,” said Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney with the Public Defender’s Office. “Certainly not from a distance of 30 yards in a single shot.”
A firearms expert and police inspector testified Wednesday morning at the preliminary hearing of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who has been charged with murder, that the bullet was fired by a person sitting in a swivel chair on the pier and killed Steinle after striking the ground July 1.
By the end of the preliminary hearing, Judge Brendan Conroy will decide whether or not there is enough evidence to proceed with a trial. Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant, has pleaded not guilty to murder in the contentious case which has brought national attention to Sanctuary City policies.
Gerald Andrew Smith, a supervising criminalist at the San Francisco Police Department’s crime lab, said in San Francisco Superior Court on Wednesday that the single round that came from a handgun later recovered in the bay ricocheted off “a very hard surface.”
The strike mark was initially missed by Crime Scene Investigators, but Inspector John Evans said his team found the slight indent in the concrete July 5 after searching nearby objects with no results.
The mark was about 78 feet from the spot where Steinle’s blood coated the pier, Evans said.
On the other side of the mark, about 15 feet away, is the swivel chair Lopez-Sanchez is believed to have been sitting on. Witness and photographs taken around the time of the shooting appear to place him there.
When found by police divers in the Bay, the suspected homicide weapon — a semiautomatic, .40 caliber SIG Sauer P329 — contained only seven rounds though it can hold eight rounds in its magazine and chamber, Smith said.
The bullet was recovered by the Medical Examiner’s Office, according to testimony from Chief Michael Hunter. It showed signs of hitting a hard surface such as cement, steel or another “very hard metal,” and had marks that matched the pistol, Smith said.
Hunter said the bullet entered Steinle’s body at a slightly upward angle.
“This is anything but a classic entrance wound,” Hunter said while looking at a photo taken during Steinle’s autopsy. He, too, testified that the bullet ricocheted.
Police identified Lopez-Sanchez as the suspect in the killing about an hour after the fatal shot was fired at 6:30 p.m.
Officer Joshua Fry testified Wednesday that he used witness photographs, one of which was taken from a fifth-floor hotel room, to identify and arrest Lopez-Sanchez at gunpoint near the shooting scene.
When Lopez-Sanchez was found, Fry said his pockets were filled with crackers, cigarette butts, paper and Muni bus transfers.
Lopez-Sanchez is said to be a homeless man who took sleeping pills he found in a dumpster before the shooting. He did not resist arrest when located by police, Fry said. No weapon was found on him at the time.
On Tuesday, a homicide investigator testified the weapon was found by police divers in the San Francisco Bay after video footage recorded, and a witness saw an object splash in the water. The object was the gun.
The pistol was owned by a Bureau of Land Management park ranger, and was reportedly stolen before the shooting.
Lopez-Sanchez has not been charged with possession of a stolen weapon or auto burglary, Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia said.
The preliminary hearing is scheduled to continue Thursday morning.
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