David DePape was found guilty in a San Francisco federal court on Thursday of attempting to kidnap former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and assaulting her husband with a hammer after he broke into the couple’s San Francisco home last year.
The jury of 10 men and two women spent a day deliberating the two federal charges before reaching their verdict, concluding a high-profile and, at times, bizarre trial that lasted only four days.
DePape sat quietly beside his attorneys as the verdict was read, but did not outwardly react to the decision.
The case consumed the nation for more than a year, with former President Trump and conservative commentators using the attack to rile up their far-right base and swipe at the Democratic congresswoman, raising broader concerns over political violence and the safety of public officials and their families.
The jurors reached their decision even with the defense’s claims that DePape, 43, was motivated not by violence, but by a network of political conspiracy theories he harbored against Democrats and other public figures and elected officials.
He faces up to a combined 50 years in prison.
Despite the overwhelming and highly publicized evidence against DePape from police body-camera video and interviews — as well as his multiple confessions to the attack — it was never a straightforward assault case because the federal trial focused on his intent, not whether he committed the violent act.
Still-pending state charges accuse DePape of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, burglary, and threats to a public official and their family. But the federal trial centered on whether DePape was motivated to assault Paul Pelosi and attempt to kidnap Nancy Pelosi because of her official duties in Congress.
Prosecutors therefore had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that DePape intended to kidnap the lawmaker “on account of or during the performance of her official duties” and that he assaulted her husband in an effort to “impede, intimidate or interfere” with her official duties or in retaliation for her work.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Laura Vartain Horn and Helen Gilbert provided a clear picture of DePape’s “violent plan” on the night he traveled from his East Bay residence to the Pelosis’ Pacific Heights home in October 2022. They reviewed his recent Amazon purchases and internet search history — including his paid subscription to a service that provided email and home addresses — to demonstrate how he spent months preparing for the attack.
The prosecutors showed jurors the graphic police body-camera video of DePape bludgeoning Paul Pelosi with the hammer, fracturing the 82-year-old man’s skull and seriously injuring his right arm and left hand.
“This is the moment where Paul Pelosi ends up attacked in the dead of night in his own home, lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood,” Gilbert said in her closing argument as a still frame of the moment before the attack was displayed on courtroom screens.
Jurors heard portions of a recorded police interview in which DePape said he considered Nancy Pelosi the Democrats’ “leader of the pack,” and claimed he would “break her kneecaps” if she didn’t admit to corruption and other unfounded claims of human trafficking and child abuse by public figures. He told the officer that the former speaker would have to wheel herself into Congress, where other lawmakers could see the “f— consequence to being the most evil f— people on the planet.”
“She was the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives,” Gilbert said. “She was the head of the Democratic Party in the House. That was her job. And because of her job, the defendant targeted her.”
Gilbert pointed out that DePape brought zip ties, rope and duct tape as additional evidence that he intended to hold Nancy Pelosi hostage.
“This is attempted kidnapping. He attempted to seize and confine her, and he brought the tools to do it,” she said. And when he learned that Nancy Pelosi was in Washington and wouldn’t be home for days, Gilbert argued that DePape instead “inflicted the punishment he meant for Nancy Pelosi” on her husband.
“That is retaliation,” she said.
Paul Pelosi also offered chilling details of the break-in and assault, testifying that he knew he was in “serious danger” and that his only hope was calling 911.
“There are still lumps on my head. If I run my fingers, I can still feel dents and lumps,” he told the jurors. “I’ve made the best effort I possibly can to not relive this.”
DePape’s attorneys, federal public defenders Jodi Linker and Angela Chuang, never disputed that their client “did horrible things” and “committed serious crimes.” Instead, they argued that he was inspired by elaborate and baseless conspiracy theories that may have seemed “bogus” but were nonetheless his deeply held beliefs.
In a powerful closing argument, Chuang said the case was not a “who done it,” but a “why done it.”
“Mr. DePape didn’t go to that house because he had some particular fixation against only Nancy Pelosi,” she said. “He didn’t go there because of anything she did in her official duties or as speaker of the House.”
The Pelosis’ home was only the first stop in a cross-country plan to target other powerful people in America he believed were involved in QAnon-like conspiracy theories of criminal activity, Chuang said. His goal was to “root out the corruption of the ruling class, the cabal, to stop the molestation of children and expose the truth to everyone.”
“They want you to believe this was just about Nancy Pelosi, that he was singularly focused. But that’s not true,” Chuang said.
DePape rejected the argument in testimony Tuesday that he had plans to kidnap the former speaker, or that he assaulted her husband because of her role in Congress.
He detailed his descent into political extremism and far-right conspiracy theories, and claimed that the Pelosis’ home was only the first step in his broader anti-corruption plan.
“I didn’t want this to escalate into something where (Paul Pelosi) would get hurt,” he told the jury.
The defense also scrutinized Nancy Pelosi’s schedule in efforts to convince the jury that the former speaker was not always engaged in official business.
Their point was that DePape could not be guilty of the federal charges in connection with the lawmaker’s official duties, because there were many times in her schedule when she was engaging in politics, such as campaign fundraising or lunches with advocacy organizations or getting a haircut, and not executing her job as speaker of the House.
Chuang argued that DePape was inspired to break into the Pelosis’ home not because of any law Nancy Pelosi helped pass, or how she was running the House, but because of her political activities with the national Democratic Party and what he described in police interviews as political attacks against Trump.
In comparison, Chuang explained that DePape planned to also target Gov. Gavin Newsom because he had recently signed a gun-control bill, more clearly an official duty.
“(Nancy Pelosi) has a work life, a personal life and a political life,” Chuang said, adding that while she was a member of Congress and speaker of the House, “that doesn’t mean she is always performing official duties.”
The argument was strong enough, it seemed, that after closing arguments Wednesday morning the jury needed 24 hours to reach a verdict.
A hearing to set a trial on his state charges is scheduled for Nov. 29.
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