Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, right, is lead into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, left, and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia for arraignment on July 7, 2015. (Michael Macor/2015 San Francisco Chronicle via Pool)

Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, right, is lead into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, left, and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia for arraignment on July 7, 2015. (Michael Macor/2015 San Francisco Chronicle via Pool)

Second auto burglary linked to Kate Steinle killing

An attorney for the undocumented immigrant charged in the killing of Kate Steinle said Monday that a second auto burglary has been linked to the homicide, but claimed that neither crime scene implicates the man accused of pulling the trigger.

Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney for the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, said that the auto burglar who stole the alleged murder weapon from a Bureau of Land Management ranger’s car in San Francisco also appears to have broken into another nearby vehicle.

A ricocheted bullet from the law enforcement firearm fatally struck Steinle at Pier 14 on July 1, 2015. Gonzalez is an attorney for Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican national charged with murder — but not auto-burglary — under the name Jose Ines Garcia Zarate.

“It turns out that stolen items from the Bureau of Land Management’s automobile were found in that second auto burglary,” Gonzalez told reporters, noting that a magazine for the firearm was found in the other car. “There is in effect a second crime scene, neither of which can be tied to Garcia Zarate, and we think that’s important and relevant.”

The new details came to light during a hearing Monday at the Hall of Justice, where Lopez-Sanchez walked into a courtroom in an orange jumpsuit, shook hands with his legal team and said “good morning” to them in Spanish.

Despite the lack of evidence pointing to Lopez-Sanchez for either auto burglary, according to his attorney, congressional Republicans have used the case in their efforts to crack down on illegal immigration.

In a June 29 blog post advocating for a bill called “Kate’s Law,” which would increase penalties for undocumented immigrants who repeatedly cross the border illegally, House Speaker Paul Ryan wrote that Lopez-Sanchez “stole a gun out of a federal officer’s car, fired shots in public, and shot Kate Steinle in the back.”

The bill passed the House of Representatives June 29.

Yet Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia, who is prosecuting the case, said in court Monday that “he found the gun, we’re not going to say he stole it.” Garcia argued that the origin of the weapon is irrelevant to the killing and should be excluded from the case.

“He had the gun, he chose where he wanted to fire it and he admitted it in an interview with police,” Garcia said.

Attorneys revealed the new details while arguing over what pieces of evidence should be heard during trial. Gonzalez wanted the court documents and proceedings ahead of the trial sealed to the public, arguing that undue media attention could impact the trial.

But San Francisco Superior Court Judge Samuel K. Feng ruled against that motion.

“Much of the evidence in this trial itself has already been in the public sphere,” Feng said.

Zeng also said during the hearing that the BLM ranger was on vacation in San Francisco when the firearm was stolen, which contradicts what a bureau spokesperson told KQED in a June report. That same report identified the ranger as John Woychowski.

The ranger is expected to testify on the condition of the gun during the trial. Gonzalez has suggested that the gun’s trigger could be pulled unintentionally.

It was also said during the hearing that Steinle’s father Jim Steinle will take the stand. Jim Steinle had his arm around his daughter when the bullet struck her.

The case is expected to return to court Sept. 5, where the attorneys will debate whether to include in the trial a voluminous transcript of statements Lopez-Sanchez made to police.


Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeink

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