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Defendant in Steinle slaying to stand trial under birth name

Jury selection scheduled to start in two weeks in San Francisco

The man accused of fatally shooting Pleasanton native Kate Steinle as she walked on San Francisco's Pier 14 with her father two years ago is set to go on trial as soon as later this month -- but he will do so under a different name than was previously reported.

The man largely known as Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who was arrested on a murder charge shortly after Steinle's fatal shooting on July 1, 2015, is now being referred to by the court as Jose Ines Garcia-Zarate.

Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney for the public defender's office, said Tuesday the name, which was previously listed as one of a number of aliases, is the one listed on the 54-year-old Garcia-Zarate's birth certificate and has been used in some prior federal cases.

"He's going to trial facing life in prison, we think he should be called by his true name," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said it was not uncommon for immigrants with a history of crossing the border multiple times, as Garcia-Zarate has done, to use different names or be called different names by authorities at various times.

Defense attorneys have said they plan to argue that Steinle's shooting, which was linked to a gun that had been stolen from a federal Bureau of Land Management agent's car in San Francisco several days earlier, was accidental.

Evidence presented at the preliminary hearing suggests the bullet that struck Steinle, a 32-year-old Amador Valley High alumnus who had recently moved to San Francisco, was a ricochet.

Garcia-Zarate's arrest and his status as an undocumented immigrant with multiple prior deportations drew national attention and became talking points for conservatives leading up to the November 2016 election.

San Francisco's sanctuary city policies limiting cooperation by local law enforcement with federal immigration authorities, in particular, drew scrutiny.

Garcia-Zarate had been taken into city custody in March 2015 for a warrant on a marijuana sales charge after he completed a nearly four-year federal sentence for illegal re-entry following deportation.

When the marijuana charge was dropped, local officials released him without notifying immigration authorities despite a pending civil detainer request, as dictated by sheriff's department policy.

Steinle's family filed a wrongful death suit against 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 of this year a federal judge dismissed the case against the city and Mirkarimi, while allowing a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management to proceed.

Jury selection in Garcia-Zarate's trial is currently expected to begin the week of Aug. 21.

-- Sara Gaiser, Bay City News

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