Back in 2007, the undocumented immigrant now charged with shooting a magical young woman on a San Francisco pier penned a one-page letter to the U.S. District Court in New Mexico.
“The defendant looks forward to going back to his country,” the man wrote in the third person.
Across the top of the letter, the man neatly lettered the words “Motion to Correct Sentence” and “United States V. Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez.” He is listed in this and most of his other court cases by that name and in others as Juan Jose Dominguez-De La Parra. His real name is said by federal authorities to most likely be Jose Inez Garcia Zarate. The authorities are not sure which of the various dates of birth he has provided is accurate.
As Lopez-Sanchez, DOB 12/12/1980, he reminded the court in this letter from a federal correctional facility in Missouri that he was serving 51 months in federal prison for illegal reentry to the United States. He had also been sentenced to an added 21 months for violating the terms of his supervised release after a 1998 conviction for a previous illegal reentry.
He wrote to the court that it was his understanding the 51 months and the 21 months were to be served concurrently. But prison officials were now trying to tell him the sentences were supposed to be consecutive.
“The defendant…thanks the court for the correction,” he said in the letter.
The court found that since the two terms had been imposed at different times, they were presumed to be consecutive.
“Defendant’s sentence may not be modified,” the judge ruled.
Lopez-Sanchez served the combined 72 months. He had already served 63 months in a previous case, being in a category where immigration violations translate to heavy time thanks to some relatively minor drug busts.
He had spent 135 months in American federal prisons when he was returned to Mexico in late June 2009.
Just three months later, this man who had written of his desire to return to his own country was arrested in Eagle Pass, Texas, for once again leaving it to slip into the United States.
He was sentenced to another 46 months, to be followed by 21 months of supervised release, as before. His total time in federal pens stood at 181 months—or a little more than 15 years—as he neared the end of his latest sentence.
Then, just as he was about to be returned to Mexico in a sixth deportation, another letter became part of his voluminous court files.
This March 23 letter was written by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department. The letter—first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle—said Lopez-Sanchez was wanted on an outstanding $5,000 bench warrant arising from a 1995 bust for selling $20 of marijuana to an undercover cop in that city. The federal prison authorities were asked to notify the sheriff’s office “when the subject is ready for pick-up.”
Lopez-Sanchez was at a federal detention facility in San Bernardino County near Los Angeles. The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department took custody of him three days later, on March 26. The feds are said to have asked the sheriff’s people to notify them prior to his release on the pot case.
The following day, Lopez-Sanchez appeared in San Francisco Superior Court. The case was so old that the evidence had been destroyed. The judge tossed it.
For the next three weeks, Lopez-Sanchez sat in the county jail while the sheriff’s legal division pondered what to do with him. Federal authorities asked that he be held pending deportation.
But San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi had decided that the city’s “sanctuary law” largely precluded law enforcement from cooperating with immigration authorities in such circumstances.
Lopez-Sanchez was freed on April 15.
The real aim of the letter he had written to the court back in 2007 was to return to his country as soon as possible so he could then slip back into America even at the risk of yet another heavy prison term.
He now found himself at liberty in Sanctuary City, for once with no need to worry about being deported as long as he stayed in San Francisco.
He could have remained as snug as a citizen if he had not made everybody wish he had been deported by allegedly picking up a .40 caliber pistol that had been stolen from a car on June 27. The pistol belonged to a federal U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger who had duly reported the theft.
Lopez-Sanchez later told a local ABC television reporter that he had found the gun wrapped in a T-shirt by a bench on July 1. He said it had gone off when he picked it up.
“Then suddenly I heard that boom boom, three times,” he told the reporter.
Three times. But he insisted the shooting had been accidental. He said he had not had any idea that one of the bullets had struck 32-year-old Kate Steinle in the back as she walked on Pier 14 with her father and a friend.
Several onlookers had taken Lopez-Sanchez’s photo as he hurried off. Police subsequently used the pictures to find him a short distance away. He is said to have told them that he was trying to shoot a sea lion.
He was arrested on a murder charge and entered a not-guilty plea at his arraignment. He was returned to the county jail to await further proceedings. He was booked under the name Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, but with the new DOB of 1/08/1963, making him 52, not 35, as he had been listed with the feds.
Lopez-Sanchez said he had kicked the pistol into the bay, and police recovered it, one of some 250,000 guns that are stolen in America every year.
Another gun was brandished by the thug who pulled up in a BMW, hopped out, and pistol-whipped as well as robbed two TV news crews that had come to cover the shooting on Pier 14.
A memorial for Kate Steinle was held on Thursday. Family and friends told stories of an adventurous, exuberant, and uncommonly kind young woman. They had a phrase for the sunny, uplifting impact she seemed to have on everybody, wherever her wide travels took her:
“The Kate effect.”