On July 1, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez shot and killed Kate Steinle as she was walking along a San Francisco pier. Lopez-Sanchez, who is a convicted felon and has been deported to Mexico five times, admits that he did shoot Steinle, but claims that the shooting was accidental. Lopez-Sanchez also claimed that the firearm was not his and that he found it wrapped in a shirt underneath a pier bench. Now the suspect’s lawyer, public defender Matt Gonzalez, is claiming that Lopez-Sanchez never pulled the trigger.
The defense places the blame squarely on the gun’s lack of an external safety.
“This gun has no safety,” Gonzalez told the Associated Press. “There is no evidence that he put his finger in the trigger.”
The gun was previously identified by multiple media reports as a .40 caliber Glock pistol. Adding to the controversy surrounding the case, the firearm reportedly belonged to a federal agent. According to the San Jose Mercury News, the pistol was stolen from the vehicle of a Bureau of Land Management ranger days before the shooting. An internal review is currently underway to determine whether the pistol was properly stored, but officials have refused to identify the ranger due to safety concerns.
According to Lopez-Sanchez, the first time he saw the gun was when he picked it up at the pier. It was wrapped inside a T-shirt and when he handled it, discharged three times. Lopez-Sanchez told ABC 7 in an interview that he did not believe anybody was hurt, so he simply threw away the bundle and walked away. He had previously told officials that he was attempting to shoot a seal with the gun, but later attributed that to a misunderstanding with the translator.
You can see a 3D recreation of the shooting below:
Many critics have pointed out inconsistencies in his story, while others doubt the credibility of his statements based on his criminal history. His lawyer’s claim that the gun was unreliable since it lacked an external safety has also come under criticism, and not just by the prosecutor’s office.
Gun owners who are familiar with Glock firearms say that the guns do come with a reliable and time-tested safety system. Glock pistols equipped with the company’s signature “Safe Action” system have three independent mechanical safeties that require a deliberate trigger pull before disengaging. Critics argue that if the gun used in the shooting was a Glock, then it would be very unlikely for it to discharge by itself.
In any event, prosecutor Diane Garcia said that if Lopez-Sanchez had not pointed the gun directly at Steinle, the woman would still be alive.
“He could have fired the gun anywhere, but he fired at Kate Steinle,” Garcia said “He played his own version of Russian roulette.”
Due to Lopez-Sanchez’s history of deportations, the case has become a lightning rod in the ongoing debate over immigration. The San Francisco Police Officers Association has been vocal in criticizing local politicians for making San Francisco a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants.
“Bottom line is a young innocent woman has been murdered in cold blood, in front of her father, by a 5 time deported illegal alien drug dealer. He is an ILLEGAL ALIEN not an undocumented immigrant and if he was where he belonged (Mexico) this innocent victim would still be alive,” the association wrote on its Facebook page in July.
Republican presidential candidates have also mentioned the case when speaking about illegal immigration. Front-runner Donald Trump pointed to the shooting as another reason why lawmakers should focus on securing the border.
“This senseless and totally preventable act of violence committed by an illegal immigrant is yet another example of why we must secure our border immediately,” Trump said in a statement. “This is an absolutely disgraceful situation and I am the only one that can fix it. Nobody else has the guts to even talk about it. That won’t happen if I become President.”
Trump had previously courted controversy when he made disparaging remarks about Mexicans, but his latest stance on immigration is supported by several other GOP presidential hopefuls as well.