Suspect In San Francisco Shooting Claims Gun Accidentally Went Off

The suspect in a fatal San Francisco shooting that's added to the national debate over immigration policy claimed in a jailhouse interview that he killed the woman accidentally.

Francisco Sanchez, accused of killing Kathryn Steinle, 32, on a popular downtown pier, told KGO-TV that he found a gun wrapped in a T-shirt beneath a bench and that it fired three shots when he picked it up.

Wearing an orange jumpsuit, Sanchez said Sunday that he didn't know he'd shot Steinle on July 1 until police arrested him later that night. San Francisco police said he was booked for homicide.

KGO reported that Sanchez, who speaks limited English, said his memory of the shooting was clouded because he'd taken sleeping pills that he found in a dumpster.

“Did you shoot Kate Steinle, the lady that was down on Pier 14?” KGO reporter Cornell Barnard asked.

“Yes,” Sanchez replied.

His apparent confession conflicts with Sanchez's earlier statements to police, who've claimed that the 45-year-old told them he was shooting at sea lions, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Police have said that Steinle's killing appeared to be random. She was strolling on Pier 14 with her father and a family friend when a single bullet hit her in the upper torso around 6:30 p.m. Her father attempted CPR while witnesses took pictures and video that San Francisco police officials have said helped them identify and arrest Sanchez an hour later. Steinle died at San Francisco General Hospital.

The shooting sparked a debate about San Francisco's policy of denying requests from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain immigrants without a warrant. Sanchez, a Mexican citizen who's been deported five times, was transferred from federal custody to the San Francisco County Jail in March to face a local drug charge.

The city district attorney declined to pursue the drug case and, in April, the sheriff's office released Sanchez though ICE had requested keeping him in custody until federal agents could pick him up. The sheriff's office cited a 2013 city law banning the detention of immigrants based solely on whether they entered the country illegally.