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Murder Weapon Becomes Focus Of Kate Steinle Slaying Trial

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A federal agent was ordered Friday to testify in the upcoming murder trial of the man charged in the 2015 death of Kate Steinle about the stolen weapon that was used in her shooting.

The Steinle slaying has become a focal point of President Donald Trump's immigration policies. She was allegedly slain by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez on July 1, 2015 as she walked with her father on San Francisco's Pier 14.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: The Murder Of Kate Steinle

Lopez-Sanchez, 54, was in the country illegally at the time. He had been taken custody on a warrant for a marijuana sales charge in March of 2015 after he completed a nearly four-year federal sentence for illegal re-entry following deportation.

When the marijuana charge was dropped by San Francisco prosecutors, he was released from custody without notice to immigration authorities despite a pending detainer request because of the city's Sanctuary City policy.

The 54-year-old was arrested shortly after Steinle's shooting, which was committed with a gun that had been stolen from a Bureau of Land Management agent's car in San Francisco several days earlier.

Defense attorneys have said they plan to argue that the shooting was accidental, and information about the gun might be relevant to that defense.

"The weapon was pointed at the ground at the time of discharge, " Deputy Public Defender Francisco Ugarte said. "The physical traits of discharge appear to be an accident, so the condition of the weapon, the trigger pull, the history, all of those things are relevant and the last person to see the weapon before its appearance on the pier was the agent."

Attorneys for the Bureau of Land Management had resisted producing the agent for testimony, but in court on Friday they said were dropping their objections.

The exact scope of the agent's testimony will be determined by the trial judge. Prosecutors have questioned the relevance of his evidence to the case.

"The defendant was charged with murder, and as such the issues that are presented are did he pull the trigger, and if he did so, did he do so with implied malice," District Attorney's Office spokesman Max Szabo said.

Prosecutors have withdrawn a motion to continue the trial, meaning it may go ahead shortly. Lopez-Sanchez was set to return to court on Tuesday.

Steinle's family filed a wrongful death suit the city of San Francisco and then-Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who had issued a March 2015 memo prohibiting sheriff's employees from giving inmate release dates to federal officials.

However in January a federal judge dismissed the case against the city and Mirkarimi, while allowing a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management to proceed.

The U.S. House of Representatives in June passed two laws aimed at San Francisco, including one named in Steinle's memory.

"Kate's Law" raises the maximum prison penalties for immigrants who reenter the United States illegally repeatedly.

A second law passed the same day, the "No Sanctuary for Criminals Act," would require local law enforcement to comply with immigration detainers and allow individuals harmed by undocumented immigrants who were released pending a detainer to sue local authorities for damages.

TM and © Copyright 2017 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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