Murder Suspect Who Ignited Immigration Debate Goes on Trial Today

Kate Steinle (right) was shot and killed on July 1, 2015 near San Francisco’s Pier 14. In an interview with CNN affiliate KGO, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez (left) admitted that he shot Steinle but that the shooting was an accident.

Kate Steinle’s killing inspired an immigration bill while President Donald Trump and other Republicans have invoked her name in decrying sanctuary cities and promoting the construction of a border wall.

Now, more than two years after her death, her alleged killer will face a jury.

Opening statements are set to begin Monday in the second-degree murder trial of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented Mexican immigrant accused of repeatedly entering the United States illegally. He was arrested hours after Steinle was fatally shot while walking with her dad in July 2015 on a San Francisco pier. The bullet hit her in the back and pierced her aorta.

Lopez-Sanchez’s trial has been delayed a number of times since his arrest. He pleaded not guilty during his arraignment.

The case has stirred controversy over immigration policy because of two key details: Lopez-Sanchez was a convicted felon who’d been deported from the United States five times, and before the shooting, officials in San Francisco, a so-called sanctuary city, had released Lopez-Sanchez rather than turning him over to federal authorities.

The Lopez-Sanchez case has become a rallying cry for Trump and others. But his attorney told CNN earlier this year that the killing was accidental.

“There’s substantial evidence that it’s a complete accident,” Matt Gonzalez said. “From our point of view, the bullet ricocheted off the ground.”

In a July op-ed, Gonzalez said his client found the gun wrapped in a T-shirt and it accidentally discharged in his hands, the bullet ricocheting off the pier near where Lopez-Sanchez was sitting. The gun was a Sig Sauer .40-caliber, which Gonzalez claims in the editorial is “known for having a hair trigger,” and belonged to a Bureau of Land Management official who had it stolen out of his car, the attorney said.

Saying his client’s case was being used to “whip up fear of immigrants,” Gonzalez further added that Lopez-Sanchez had never been charged with a violent crime and was in San Francisco only because federal authorities had transported him there to face a 20-year-old marijuana charge that was promptly dismissed.

“He is a simple man with a second-grade education,” Gonzalez wrote. “He came to the U.S. repeatedly because extreme poverty is the norm in many parts of Mexico. He risked going to jail so that he could perform a menial job that could feed him. Each time, he came to the U.S. because American employers openly encourage illegal immigration to fill the jobs U.S. citizens don’t want.”

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SOURCE: CNN, Catherine E. Shoichet, Dan Simon and Tal Kopan