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San Francisco shooting plot thickens: Gun belonged to federal agent

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Beck Diefenbach/AP

(Read caption) Father Cameron Faller (r.) and Julio Escobar, of Restorative Justice Ministry, conduct a vigil for Kathryn Steinle, Monday, on Pier 14 in San Francisco. Ms. Steinle was gunned down while out for an evening stroll at Pier 14 with her father and a family friend on Wednesday, July 1.

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The gun used in last week’s controversial shooting on a San Francisco pier belonged to a federal agent, a law enforcement official has told The Associated Press.

Officials who inspected the gun traced its serial number to a federal agent, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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The San Francisco Police Department declined a request for comment.

Since reports emerged that the suspected shooter was Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez – a Mexican immigrant who had been deported back to his home country five times and was allegedly living in the US illegally – the case has summoned the attention of major immigration critics and advocates, who continue to wrestle over the best means to secure US borders.

Mr. Sanchez pleaded not guilty Tuesday to first-degree murder.

But speaking from a jailhouse to local news station KGO-TV, Sanchez didn’t deny shooting Kathryn Steinle, who had been out for a walk with her father.

“Did you shoot Kate Steinle, the lady who was down at Pier 14?” the reporter asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

Sanchez told the station that the shooting had been an accident, and that he didn’t even realize he had killed someone until being arrested hours later. He claimed he had been wandering the pier after taking sleeping pills taken from a dumpster, and described finding the gun wrapped in a T-shirt.

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"Then suddenly I heard that boom boom, three times," said Sanchez, according to KGO-TV.

Matt Gonzalez, the public defender representing Sanchez, said Tuesday that the San Francisco woman's death appeared to be accidental.

The shooting comes on the heels of public outcry over controversial anti-Latino remarks made by Donald Trump, an outspoken immigration opponent and real estate magnate running for the Republican presidential nomination. Mr. Trump had accused most Mexican immigrants of bringing drugs and crime to the United States, as well as being “rapists,” reported the Monitor.

But the case has also renewed another debate, this time over San Francisco’s 26-year-old sanctuary law, which limits the extent of cooperation between local state, city, and county officials and federal authorities.

In this case, legislators are criticizing the policy for allowing city officials to release Sanchez in April, who had been serving time for a marijuana charge after completing another term for illegally entering the country.

The San Francisco sheriff has cited the “sanctuary city” law as prosecutorial basis to drop the drug charges in spite of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement request to hold him for deportation proceedings.

Hillary Clinton was the most high-profile Democrat to join the debate Tuesday.

“The city made a mistake, not to deport someone that the federal government strongly felt should be deported,” she told the AP.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California called on San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee to start cooperating with federal immigration officials to deport immigrants with a felony record. “I strongly believe that an undocumented individual, convicted of multiple felonies and with a detainer request from ICE, should not have been released,” she said.

This report contains material from The Associated Press.