SAN FRANCISCO —
Defense attorneys for the man accused of bludgeoning the husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a hammer last year told jurors Thursday they acknowledge their client committed a crime and harbored “bizarre” far-right conspiracy theories, but they disputed federal charges that he attempted to kidnap the congresswoman and assaulted Paul Pelosi in connection with her official duties.
In a lengthy opening argument, federal public defender Jodi Linker said David DePape, 43, broke into the Pelosis’ home during the early morning of Oct. 28, 2022, as part of a broader plan to end corruption, human trafficking, child abuse and other offenses he believed were being committed by the upper echelons of the Democratic Party, including Nancy Pelosi and elected officials such as Rep. Adam Schiff and Gov. Gavin Newsom, and public figures such as actor Tom Hanks and billionaire philanthropist George Soros.
“Members of the jury, many of us do not believe any of that. We think it’s bogus,” Linker said. “You may think it is all lies, harmful lies that are in fact destroying the country. … But the evidence in this trial will show that Mr. DePape believes these things, he believes them with every ounce of his being. He believes them firmly and completely and it is these beliefs, wholly unrelated to Nancy Pelosi’s official duties to Congress, that propelled him to act that night.”
DePape’s ideas, whether true or not, Linker explained to the jury of three women and 12 men, prompted his plan to “stop the wealthy elite, to protect children and end the lies and reveal the truth.”
“And in this court, on these two charges, these beliefs matter,” she added, because the government is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that DePape acted in response to Nancy Pelosi’s official duties.
“That’s definitely not why he did it,” Linker said.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Laura Vartain Horn told the federal court jury that DePape spent months gathering information about the Pelosi family on the internet. He traveled from the East Bay to the couple’s San Francisco home with plans to hold Nancy Pelosi “hostage,” “break her kneecaps” and “teach her a lesson,” she said in her opening arguments.
“When the defendant broke into the speaker’s home, he had a plan,” Horn said, using the large wood-handled hammer, kept in a plastic bag, to reinforce her argument. “It was a violent plan.”
Not able to find Nancy Pelosi that morning, Horn said, DePape “unleashed his violence on the next closest thing to the speaker.”
DePape faces up to a combined 50 years in prison for attempted kidnapping of the former speaker and assaulting Paul Pelosi with the intent to interfere with the lawmaker’s official duties or retaliate against her. He also faces state charges including assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, burglary and threats to a public official and their family.
DePape was in court Thursday and had swapped his orange jail jumpsuit for a blue sweater and a collared shirt, his hair tied back in his signature low ponytail. His ex-partner, Gypsy Taub, and their two sons looked on from the gallery, while the Pelosis’ daughter, Christine Pelosi, sat at the rear of the courtroom.
Much of the trial will focus on an unnamed woman listed as Target 1, who was described in court as an anthropologist and queer studies professor at the University of Michigan. DePape had planned to use Nancy Pelosi to “lure” Target 1, Linker said, whose research on feminism, pornography and gender roles he believed was at the “root of harm to children.”
“The evidence will show he had a much larger plan and the stop at the Pelosis’ was only the first stop in that plan,” Linker said.
What “thwarted” his greater plot, she added, was when police arrived at the home. Paul Pelosi had called 911 after DePape broke into the home, and the two were fighting for control of the hammer when officers knocked on the front door.
Police ordered them to drop the weapon, but DePape forced it from Pelosi and struck the 82-year-old man on the head, according to several officer body-camera videos shown in court.
“In that moment, he reacted impulsively and yanked the hammer out of Mr. Pelosi’s hand and he hit him,” Linker said, not because he had a greater plan of assault, but “because [Paul Pelosi] was the one standing there in that moment.”
Prosecutors called as witnesses three officers who had responded to the 911 call, along with Lt. Carla Hurley, who interviewed DePape from his hospital bed while he was being treated for a dislocated shoulder and other injuries. Hurley described portions of the interview, in which DePape wanders into conspiracies about Hillary Clinton, the Watergate scandal and Democrats stealing the election from former President Trump, as “so jarring, so disturbing,” which prompted her to ask about his mental health history.
Despite public questions over DePape’s mental capacity, his attorneys are not expected to raise that argument during trial.
At one point in the interview, DePape said his plan was to question Nancy Pelosi. If she admitted to his conspiracies, he’d let her go. If she didn’t, he’d break her kneecaps, and she’d have to wheel herself into Congress, where other lawmakers could see as an example the consequences of being the “most evil” people on the planet.
“I am not of unwell mind. I knew exactly what I was doing,” he said.
Certain police body camera footage, along with the 911 call, surveillance video of DePape breaking into the home and the police interview after his arrest, was already widely publicized ahead of trial and replayed for the jury on Thursday.
Jurors also saw two photographs of Paul Pelosi lying on his foyer’s wooden floor in a pool of his own blood. Video footage caught what prosecutors referred to as Pelosi’s “agonal breathing,” or what one officer described as the body trying to push oxygen to the brain in a last-ditch effort to stay alive.
In another police body camera video taken shortly after the crime, DePape seems to offer an admission.
“I’m sick of the insane f— level of lies coming out of Washington, D.C.,” he told officers. “I didn’t really want to hurt him, but you know, this was a suicide mission, and you know, with the s— that’s going on in f—Washington, D.C., I’m not just going to stand here and do nothing.
“If you guys need evidence, the evidence is there,” he said. “There is no denying what I did. Cops watched me do it.”