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California judge to decide whether murder trial in San Francisco pier shooting will proceed

FILE - In this July 7, 2015 file photo, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, right, is lead into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, left, and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garciaor, center, for his arraignment at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco. The parents of Kathryn Steinle filed a wrongful death claim Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015 alleging that the San Francisco Sheriff's Department is to blame for releasing an illegal immigrant from jail despite a federal "detainer" request to keep in custody for possible deportation proceedings. A claim is usually a precursor to a lawsuit. (Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle via AP, Pool, File)

FILE - In this July 7, 2015 file photo, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, right, is lead into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, left, and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garciaor, center, for his arraignment at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco. The parents of Kathryn Steinle filed a wrongful death claim Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015 alleging that the San Francisco Sheriff's Department is to blame for releasing an illegal immigrant from jail despite a federal "detainer" request to keep in custody for possible deportation proceedings. A claim is usually a precursor to a lawsuit. (Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle via AP, Pool, File)

A San Francisco judge is deciding whether to schedule a murder trial for a Mexican national deported from the United States five times before shooting a young woman — a death that became the focus of the national immigration debate.

A preliminary hearing on the matter is scheduled to resume Thursday in San Francisco. A judge could also decide to schedule a murder trial.

Juan Francisco López-Sánchez has pleaded not guilty to murder charges, though he admits to firing the shot that killed Kathryn Steinle, while she was on an evening stroll with her father.

López-Sánchez said the shooting was an accident. He said he found a .40 caliber semiautomatic pistol under a bench on San Francisco's Pier 14. He said the gun accidentally fired when he picked it up.

Ballistics experts testified last week that the shot ricocheted off the concrete walkway and fatally struck Steinle in the back. The gun was stolen from a Bureau of Land Management ranger when his car was burglarized in downtown San Francisco in June.

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The incident touched off an international debate over U.S. immigration policy and the so-called "sanctuary city" policies of hundreds of municipalities across the country.

The San Francisco Sheriff's Department released López-Sánchez from jail after local prosecutors dropped a 20-year-old marijuana possession charge. López-Sánchez, 45, was released despite a federal request to detain him further so immigration officials could decide whether to start deportation proceedings for the sixth time.

San Francisco and some 300 other cities and counties have passed local laws of non-cooperation with federal immigration officials seeking to detain jail inmates suspected to be in the country illegally.

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said he was following city law when the jail released López-Sánchez.

Kathryn Steinle's family and their attorneys filed three separate legal claims seeking unspecified damages from the BLM, San Francisco Sheriff's Department and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The three agencies declined to comment on the claims, which are precursors to lawsuits.

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