Photos, witnesses place Pier 14 murder suspect at scene
An undocumented immigrant suspected of fatally shooting a 32-year-old San Francisco woman in broad daylight at the San Francisco waterfront last month attended his preliminary hearing Tuesday.
The hearing included testimony from three police investigators and photographic evidence captured by tourists that appear to place the suspect at the crime scene.
Tuesday was the first of a two-day preliminary hearing before San Francisco Superior Court Judge Brendan P. Conroy regarding the July 1 homicide of Kathryn “Kate” Steinle.
Less than an hour after the fatal shooting, which occurred at about 6:30 p.m. on July 1, San Francisco police arrested Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, on suspicion of murder after detaining him a couple blocks away.
Lopez-Sanchez, who is believed to be in his 40s or 50s, was deported from the United States on five previous occasions and has a criminal history with seven prior felonies, according to immigration officials.
However, Lopez-Sanchez was released onto the streets of San Francisco by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department in April when the department chose not to honor a federal immigration detainer, claiming it was against city policy to do so.
The Steinle homicide has since spurred a national debate on sanctuary city laws and the role of local law enforcement when dealing with federal officials.
Judge Conroy listened to the testimony of three police investigators assigned to the homicide who interviewed witnesses as well as the suspect.
Assistant District Attorney Diana Garcia, the prosecutor in the case and defense attorney Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, questioned the investigators as Lopez-Sanchez sat in the courtroom in shackles, listening with the assistance of a Spanish interpreter.
San Francisco police Sgt. Nico Discenza, a homicide detective assigned to the case, said he interviewed the two people who were with Steinle when she was shot.
Discenza testified that he interviewed Steinle’s father, James Steinle, and a family friend, Kay Williams, a couple hours after the homicide occurred.
The father told the detective that the three of them had gone to the San Francisco Ferry Building and were just partaking in “tourist stuff” prior to the shooting. He said they were taking photos on the pier, including a “selfie” of the three of them.
The “selfie,” which was booked into evidence, shows all three smiling and both the father and daughter wearing sunglasses.
Discenza said the father told him he had his arm around his daughter when “he heard a pop” and heard his daughter say, “Dad, help me, help me.” She then fell to the ground and he crouched down with her as she collapsed.
The father heard someone yelling for help and then a man arriving to help. The man noticed that the victim had been shot in the back and they tried to tend to her wound, according to Discenza.
The father told Discenza that he didn’t see who shot his daughter and that nobody had bothered them or had any problems with them prior to the shooting.
Discenza said he also interviewed a witness who was staying at Hotel Griffon and was watching a San Francisco Giants baseball game when she heard a “bang” outside her window.
The witness, a 32-year-old third grade teacher from out of town, Maria Moreno, told Discenza that her hotel room had a view of Pier 14 and that she could see a commotion on the pier.
“She heard a bang” which she identified as a gunshot, Discenza said. She then heard screaming and saw people moving toward the middle of the pier, where a woman was lying and someone was rendering aid.
Discenza said the witness recounted seeing a man in dark clothing moving in the opposite direction of the crowd.
The witness told Discenza that the man was walking away from the pier, headed south on the Embarcadero. Paraphrasing what the witness told him, Discenza said:
“He appeared to be peacefully walking away from the area.”
The witness described to Discenza that the suspicious man was wearing a dark-colored pea coat, with a gray hooded sweatshirt underneath, and dark pants. He had dark skin, possibly African American, and had a balding patch of hair on the right side of his head, according to Discenza’s description provided by the witness.
Discenza said Moreno took photographs of the man from her hotel room in case it would be useful later. She told police she didn’t see a weapon or anyone with the man.
She then went out to the Embarcadero and showed the photos she had taken of the man to the police officers at the scene.
Police emailed the images of the suspect to law enforcement personnel, identifying the man as a homicide suspect.
Less than an hour after the shooting, Lopez-Sanchez was taken into custody and Moreno confirmed that he was the man who she saw walking away from the pier after the shooting.
San Francisco police Sgt. Conroy Tam, also a homicide investigator, interviewed witnesses following the shooting as well.
Tam, a certified Cantonese interpreter, interviewed witness Michelle Lee in Cantonese. Lee was with her family on the pier when the shooting happened.
The witness told Tam that her family had been taking photographs by the water prior to the shooting. She said she noticed a man sitting on one of the swiveling chairs on the pier.
He was apparently swiveling around and around, wearing all black and described as a black man, Tam said.
Moments later she heard a gunshot and saw a woman lying on the ground and a person wearing all black walking away, Tam told the courtroom.
Lee told Tam that she had a “gut feeling” that this was the same man who she had noticed swiveling in the chair earlier.
The witness shared the photos she and her family had taken at the pier with police.
In at least one of the photos, which Lee had cropped her family out of, the photos showed the man in dark clothing sitting on the chair as Steinle walked further out onto the pier, her back to the camera and the San Francisco Bay Bridge in the background.
San Francisco police Sgt. Anthony Ravano, also a homicide investigator, interviewed a woman in her 50s who was near Pier 14 when the shooting happened and led police to the firearm that may have been used in the shooting.
The witness had been walking south on The Embarcadero heading to dinner with two friends when she heard a bang and saw an object come off the pier and land in the water “with a big plop,” Ravano said.
She told Ravano that she then saw a man pull a gray hoodie over his head and run from the pier.
She described his jacket as dark-colored, possibly green, and showed the investigator the spot in the middle of the pier where she saw and heard an object enter the water.
Video surveillance footage also showed a splash in the water just after the shooting and a dive team was called to the scene on the afternoon of July 2.
Within half an hour, the divers had recovered a firearm from the bottom of the San Francisco Bay. The weapon was then booked as evidence and tested by the crime lab, Ravano said.
Ravano said he also interviewed the victim’s boyfriend, Atticus Honore, who had lived with the victim prior to her death. Honore provided police with additional photographs from his girlfriend’s cellphone to help with the investigation.
In an interview with the suspect, in addition to the name, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, Ravano said the suspect “gave us several names.”
Ravano said that during his interview with Lopez-Sanchez, he lied, telling the suspect that there was DNA evidence and gunshot residue tying him to the homicide, even though there wasn’t any such evidence at the time.
Ravano said Lopez-Sanchez then admitted to firing a gun on the pier.
Judge Conroy said the preliminary hearing would continue at 9:45 a.m. on Wednesday. Gonzalez said outside court today that ballistic evidence in the case was likely to be heard in court on Wednesday.