A ranger with the federal Bureau of Land Management will testify in an upcoming trial charging a Mexican national with murder for the slaying of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco two years ago. This marks a change in the U.S. government's initial position that federal employees cannot be subpoenaed to testify in state court cases.
The agreement between defense attorneys representing Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez and lawyers with the federal government was announced in San Francisco Superior Court on Friday. It appears to end about a month of legal wrangling that reached its peak last week with a local prosecutor accusing defense attorneys of "publicizing" BLM ranger John Woychowski's name and using "underhanded tactics that caused public humiliation of an officer who happened to be the victim of an auto burglary that is still an open police investigation."
Steinle's killing received national attention after then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and congressional Republicans seized on the case as an example of violent crime committed by people living in the U.S. illegally and blamed San Francisco's "sanctuary" ordinance for Lopez Sanchez's release from county jail.
The origin of the weapon used to kill Steinle on Pier 14 received less attention, but California legislators passed a state law in 2016 that made it an infraction for law enforcement officers to leave their guns unsecured.
Woychowski's gun was stolen after he reportedly left it in a backpack in a parked car when he stopped for dinner in San Francisco, four days before Steinle's death on July 1, 2015. Lopez Sanchez was never accused, nor charged, with the auto burglary, and his defense attorneys are arguing that he found Woychowski's Sig Sauer handgun shortly before the shooting, wrapped in a T-shirt. They say the gun fired accidentally as Lopez Sanchez handled it, before he knew what it was.
"The weapon was pointed at the ground at the time of discharge," said Francisco Ugarte, a deputy public defender who represents Lopez Sanchez.