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Judge: Suspect’s confession OK in California pier shooting

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Attorney Frank Pitre

SAN FRANCISCO » After five days of testimony spread over two weeks, a San Francisco judge said he is ready to determine if a Mexican national who became the focus of a nationwide debate over immigration should stand trial for murder.

San Francisco Judge Brendan Conroy said he would make his decision Friday.

Prosecutors want to convict Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez of second-degree murder, which has a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Lopez-Sanchez’ public defender Matt Gonzalez said the shooting death of Kate Steinle, 32, was an accident and is asking that the judge limit the jury to deciding whether his client is guilty of the less severe crime of manslaughter. An involuntary manslaughter conviction carries a maximum sentence of six years in prison.

Conroy ruled Thursday that police acted appropriately in arresting and interrogating the suspect and declined to toss out Lopez-Sanchez’ statement to police that he shot Steinle.

The shooting triggered a national debate over immigration after it was revealed that the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department had released Lopez-Sanchez despite a federal request to detain him for possible deportation.

Lopez-Sanchez, 45, was previously deported five times to his native Mexico.

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has repeatedly mentioned the killing of Steinle as he calls for a border wall and mass deportations to curb illegal immigration.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, both Democrats, said Lopez-Sanchez should have been detained.

Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said his department was following city law when jailers released Lopez-Sanchez after a 20-year-old marijuana possession charge was dropped.

The sheriff said his department requires federal officials to obtain a warrant or some other judicial notice in order for his jail to hold an inmate facing possible deportation.

San Francisco and some 300 other cities and counties have passed so-called sanctuary laws of non-cooperation with federal immigration officials seeking to detain jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally.

Lopez-Sanchez says he found the gun used in the shooting of Steinle under a bench on Pier 14. He said the gun accidentally fired when he picked it up.

Ballistic experts testified last week that the bullet ricocheted off the pavement before striking Steinle in the back.

The gun had been reported stolen from the car of a Bureau of Land Management ranger in June.

Steinle’s family has filed three separate legal claims seeking unspecified damages from the BLM, San Francisco Sheriff’s Department and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The three agencies declined to comment on the claims, which are precursors to lawsuits.

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