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Paul Pelosi attack: Suspect David DePape pleads not guilty, says he was on a ‘suicide mission’

San Francisco Chronicle 11/1/2022 By Megan Cassidy

David DePape, the suspect accused in the wildly politicized hammer attack of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and other charges Tuesday afternoon in his first court appearance.

At his arraignment in San Francisco Superior Court, Judge Diane Northway ordered DePape to be held in custody without bail, though left open the possibility to revise that ruling at a later date. Northway also signed a protective order that bars DePape from contacting Paul or Nancy Pelosi or coming within 150 yards of the couple’s home.

A judge was expected to set a date for a preliminary hearing in DePape’s case on Friday.

Tuesday’s hearing, which lasted just a few minutes, marked the first time DePape has been seen in public since allegedly breaking into the Pelosis’ San Francisco home early Friday morning and striking Paul Pelosi in the head with a hammer.

DePape, dressed in neon orange jail garb and wearing his wavy brown hair to his shoulders, spoke only to answer procedural questions.

The proceedings marked a straightforward step in a story that’s become riven with conspiracy theories and misinformation amplified by social media at a rate that’s left law enforcement officials scrambling to catch up.

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins has charged DePape with attempted murder, first-degree burglary, elder abuse, assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment of an elder, threatening the family member of a public official and a slate of enhancements.

In a motion filed Tuesday asking that DePape not be released from jail, San Francisco prosecutors offered new details about DePape’s intentions and what transpired inside the Pelosi home.

DePape told Paul Pelosi after awakening him in his bedroom why he was looking for Nancy Pelosi: “Well, she's number two in line for the presidency, right?,” according to the motion. When Paul Pelosi agreed, DePape responded with “they are all corrupt and ‘we’ve got to take them all out,’” according to the court document. When Paul Pelosi asked DePape if there was anyone he could call for him, DePape told Paul Pelosi “it was the end of the road” for him, the court document alleges. Moments later he told Paul Pelosi, “I can take you out,” according to the filing.

The filing also provided more detail about the 911 call Paul Pelosi made after DePape gave him permission to use the bathroom. Paul Pelosi had set the phone on speaker phone, allowing the dispatcher to hear what was being said, and told the dispatcher that there was a “gentleman” waiting for his wife, Nancy Pelosi.

DePape, aware that the 911 call was made, told Paul Pelosi to get off the phone, according to the filing. Paul Pelosi tried to diffuse the situation, telling the dispatcher he did not need police, fire or medical assistance while trying to convey his need for help. At some point, the dispatcher told Paul Pelosi that if he changed his mind to call back — but Pelosi quickly responded “No, no, no, this gentleman just uh came into the house uh and he wants to wait for my wife to come home.” In the background, DePape told the dispatcher he was a friend of the Pelosis while Paul Pelosi told her he did not know the man.

“He's telling me I am being very lazy, so I've gotta to stop talking to you, okay?” Paul Pelosi told the dispatcher, who asked him to stay on the line. “No, he wants me to get the hell off the phone.” Paul Pelosi said before the call ended and the dispatcher prioritized a welfare check on the home, according to the filing.

Prosecutors also provided more detail about how the hammer attack occurred, saying that after he was struck, Paul Pelosi remained unconscious for three minutes and awoke in a pool of his blood.

DePape told police officers after his arrest that he “didn’t really want to hurt” Paul Pelosi, but that he was on a “suicide mission,” according to the filing, motivated by his self-proclaimed revulsion with the “level of lies coming out of Washington, D.C.”

DePape also allegedly told police he also planned to target an unnamed “local professor” and other federal and state politicians, along with their relatives.

DePepe also faces charges of kidnapping and assault in a separate federal case.

In a brief statement to reporters after the Tuesday hearing, Deputy Public Defender Adam Lipson, who is representing DePape, hinted at a potential insanity defense. Noting the widespread speculation about his client’s susceptibility to misinformation, Lipson said that was something the defense team would “delve into.”

Lipson said DePape was being held at a San Francisco County jail.

Police said they were called to the scene before 3 a.m. Friday, when 82-year-old Paul Pelosi managed to contact authorities with a surreptitious 911 call.

When they arrived, police said they saw the two men struggle over a hammer that was used to strike Paul Pelosi at least once.

Paul Pelosi, who was interviewed by police in an ambulance to San Francisco General Hospital, said he had never seen DePape before that evening. When DePape came into the bedroom, he said to Paul Pelosi, “Where’s Nancy?,” according to Tuesday’s court filing.

After his Friday arrest, DePape allegedly confessed to officers that he broke into the Pelosis’ San Francisco home in order to get to Nancy Pelosi, who was in Washington, D.C., at the time of the attack.

“DePape stated that he was going to hold Nancy hostage and talk to her,” prosecutors said in federal court documents filed Monday, where they charged him with assault on the immediate family member of a federal official and attempted kidnapping of a federal official.

“If Nancy were to tell DePape the ‘truth,’ he would let her go, and if she ‘lied,’ he was going to break ‘her kneecaps,’” the documents state.

DePape said he did not expect Nancy Pelosi to tell the truth.

DePape allegedly explained to investigators that if Nancy Pelosi’s kneecaps were broken, she would have to be “wheeled into Congress, which would show other Members of Congress there were consequences to actions,” court records state. DePape described the speaker as the “‘leader of the pack’ of lies told by the Democratic party.”

Prior to the attack, DePape was seen by family and acquaintances as someone adrift who lived largely in obscurity from a stint as part of a local nudist movement a decade ago.

But social media screeds DePape apparently wrote in the months and days leading up to the attack paint a portrait of a man who had latched onto various right-wing conspiracy theories including QAnon, whose adherents believe former President Donald Trump stands against an alliance of Satan-worshiping Democratic pedophiles.

The blog, which has now been removed, also included bigoted commentary directed at people of color, women, Jewish people, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community and immigrants.

Fueled in large part by the far-right fringes of social media, the case over the last few days took another dark turn as bizarre, largely anti-LGBTQ conspiracy theories about the attack were amplified by some of the nation’s most visible public figures, including Elon Musk and Donald Trump.

Prosecutors on Tuesday relayed a message from the Pelosis, who asked the public to respect their privacy.

Megan Cassidy is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: megan.cassidy@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @meganrcassidy

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