Accused attacker of Paul Pelosi was not driven by politics, lawyer says – The Washington Post

SAN FRANCISCO — An attorney for the man accused of breaking into Nancy Pelosi’s house and striking her husband in the head with a hammer admitted Thursday that his client committed a criminal assault, but denied it was related to the former House speaker’s job.

In an opening statement at the federal assault and attempted kidnapping trial of David DePape, his attorney, Jodi Linker, conceded that it was “a horrible and shocking act of violence.”

But the October 2022 assault on Paul Pelosi, then 82, was not in retaliation for his wife’s performance of her duties in Congress, she said. Rather, he was carrying out a “bizarre, misguided plan” to stop a corrupt ruling elite from lying and harming children, Linker told the jury.

“What matters is what brought David to that house — what David believed and what he intended,” she said. “This is not a whodunit.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Vartain Horn told jurors that the attack was indeed retribution for Nancy Pelosi’s work in Congress, saying DePape viewed the California Democrat as “evil, a liar and leader of the pack” of public figures he targeted.

“It was a violent plan — a plan to kidnap Nancy Pelosi to hold her hostage, to break her kneecaps, to teach her a lesson,” Vartain said, showing the jurors the hammer in a clear plastic evidence bag.

A key element of both the assault and attempted kidnapping charges is that the alleged crimes were in retaliation for Nancy Pelosi’s work in the House. Opening statements made clear that the defense strategy will be to try to undercut that part of the prosecution’s case by showing that it was instead DePape’s belief in QAnon-style extremist ideology that motivated him.

Linker did not mention QAnon but told jurors that DePape thought a cabal of corrupt Hollywood and political elites was prostituting children and lying to Americans. DePape believed actor Tom Hanks, financier George Soros, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and Hunter Biden, the president’s son, were among the culprits.

A primary target of DePape’s plan to stop what he saw as a ruling-class conspiracy, she said, was a University of Michigan associate professor of anthropology and women and queer studies. Linker did not identify the associate professor by name but said DePape believed her writings on feminism, gender roles, pornography and age of consent laws promoted child molestation. Linker told the jury that the associate professor will tell them that this was “completely false.”

“He did something wrong, something horrible, but he did not commit these two federal charges,” Linker told the jury.

Prosecutors later played for jurors a recording of DePape telling police shortly after his arrest that Nancy Pelosi was the leader of Democrats who used fake evidence to spy on Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for president and then lied about it.

“The person who was on TV lying every day was Pelosi,” DePape was heard telling San Francisco Police Lt. Carla Hurley. He accused Democrats of embarking on a record-breaking crime wave that culminated four years later in their successful push “to steal the election.”

His plan, DePape was recorded telling Hurley, was to hold Pelosi hostage and release her if she would tell the truth. “It needed to be done,” he said. Her husband was not his intended target, DePape said.

Paul Pelosi suffered a skull fracture and serious injuries to his right arm and hands. He was hospitalized for six days.

Prosecutors displayed graphic photo and video evidence of the crime scene for the jury. A large pool of blood spread around Paul Pelosi’s head and stained his shirt as officers were tackling DePape.

The attack was one of the most gruesome cases of the increasingly common political violence that has plagued America in recent years. Capitol Police said the number of threat investigations rose from 3,939 in 2017 to just over 7,500 last year.

DePape, 43, is charged with two federal felonies: attempted kidnapping of a U.S. official and assault on an immediate family member of the official in retaliation for performance of her job. If convicted, DePape faces up to 30 years in prison for the assault and 20 years for the attempted kidnapping.

After the federal case is resolved, DePape will face another trial on state charges filed by the San Francisco district attorney: attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, residential burglary, false imprisonment and threatening serious bodily harm to a public official.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

DePape broke into the Pelosis’ house in the posh Pacific Heights neighborhood around 2 a.m. on Oct. 28, 2022 — 11 days before the midterm election. U.S. Capitol Police surveillance video that was played for the jury showed DePape shattering the glass of a back door to get into the house, after hitting it over and over. DePape was recorded telling police it was “not normal glass.”

DePape was carrying zip ties, tape, rope, rubber and cloth gloves, and a hammer, the FBI found. Police witnesses showed some of the items to the jury, along with photos of locations in the house where they were found.

Nancy Pelosi was out of town the night DePape broke in, but her husband was asleep in a third-floor bedroom.

Shortly after he was awakened and began conversing with DePape, Pelosi walked into a bathroom and called 911. He told the dispatcher that a man named David, whom he did not know, was in the home waiting for his wife.

Minutes later, two San Francisco police officers knocked on the front door. When it opened, Officer Kolby Willmes saw both DePape and Pelosi holding a hammer.

Police body-camera footage released on Jan. 27 shows the moment David DePape severely injured Paul Pelosi during an October 2022 attack inside Pelosi’s home. (Video: The Washington Post)

After Willmes asked the men to drop the hammer, DePape took it from Pelosi and swung it at him, striking him in the head. The 15-second scene was captured in a harrowing police body-cam video that was played for jurors, leaving some of them visibly troubled.

Willmes testified that he heard a loud noise that “sounded like iron hitting a skull.”

In the ambulance on the way to San Francisco General Hospital, Pelosi was able to answer police questions. He told police he was sound asleep when DePape came into the bedroom and announced he wanted to talk to “Nancy.”

When Pelosi told him she would not be returning home for several days, DePape responded that he would wait for her, according to police.

In a recorded interview with police, DePape said his plan had been to hold the House speaker hostage and let her go if she told the truth, but break her kneecaps if she lied.

DePape allegedly told police he was on a “suicide mission” and kept a target list of politicians who lied. On a blog, he had praised far-right political figures and denounced Jews, Black people, Democrats, transgender people and the media.

Before his arrest, DePape had been living for two years in the garage of a house in Richmond, a San Francisco suburb. He is a Canadian citizen who was in the United States illegally and could be deported after his trials, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

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