SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — 45-year-old Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez entered a not guilty plea in court on Tuesday to killing a San Francisco woman on Pier 14 last week. His bail was set at $5 million dollars.
The San Francisco courtroom was at capacity Tuesday afternoon, however, the family of the victim was not present during his arraignment.
Matt Gonzalez, the chief attorney at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, said at Sanchez’s arraignment this afternoon that the death of Pleasanton native and San Francisco resident 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle was tragic but that “very likely this was an accidental shooting.”
Police say that on June 1 at around 6:05 p.m., Sanchez allegedly fired a shot at Steinle, who was walking along the dock at Pier 14 with her father and a family friend. Sanchez fled after the shooting but was caught a few blocks away, when police detained him at about 7:25 p.m.
However, Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia told Judge Daniel Flores that the suspect allegedly shot an innocent victim in the back at close range.
Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant who has been deported from the United States on multiple occasions for various felonies, was speaking to the court through a Spanish interpreter.
Twice during his arraignment, Lopez-Sanchez told the judge in English, “I’m not guilty,” although the judge had already heard his plea and was asking him an unrelated question regarding scheduling.
In a jailhouse interview with a local TV crew on Monday, Sanchez admitted shooting Steinle but says it was an accident. Speaking in both Spanish and English, Sanchez said he found a gun wrapped inside a shirt and when he picked it up, he heard three shots go off.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials took custody of Lopez-Sanchez in March, when he was remanded to the agency after serving a multi-year federal prison sentence for felony re-entry following deportation, ICE spokesperson Gillian Christensen said in a statement.
ICE turned Sanchez over to San Francisco police on March 26 on an outstanding drug warrant, Christensen said.
San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Alex Bastian said the outstanding $5,000 warrant was for selling $20 worth of marijuana at United Nations Plaza back in 1995. Aside from Sanchez’ history, Bastian noted that, “we’ve charged this case as murder and we do so based on the evidence. And at this point, the charges are appropriate.”
The DA’s office, which formally charged Sanchez with murder on Monday, asked for no bail. But Sanchez’s public defense attorneys, Jeff Adachi and Matt Gonzalez, argued that he has never been convicted of a violent crime and says that the shooting may have been accidental.
Sanchez is due back in court July 22.
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