At a federal courthouse in San Francisco on Thursday, neither side claimed David DePape, who is accused of brutally attacking Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul with a hammer during an October break-in, is entirely innocent.
Rather, dueling attorneys tried to argue whythe Canadian man was driven to sneak into the then-House Speaker’s San Francisco mansion and attempt to kidnap her. His motivations could determine whether he spends decades in prison.
For federal prosecutors, who have charged Mr DePape with assault on the immediate family member of a federal official and attempted kidnapping of a federal official, they argue the connection between Ms Pelosi’s high office and the attack couldn’t be clearer.
“It was a violent plan — a plan to kidnap Nancy Pelosi to hold her hostage, to break her kneecaps, to teach her a lesson,” Assistant US Attorney Laura Vartain Horn told the court, arguing DePape saw Ms Pelosi as “evil, a liar and leader of the pack” of a group of high-profile figures factoring into a conspiracy theory that drove the attack.
Mr DePape’s federal public defender, meanwhile, took a different tack, arguing that the man’s conspiratorial beliefs, which mirror the QAnon movement’s main claims, were the force behind the attack, not a specific attempt to target a federal official for her duties in Congress.
“What matters is what brought David to that house — what David believed and what he intended,” attorney Jodi Linker said. “This is not a whodunit.”
The attorney said her client believed in a “bizarre” conspiracy that elites like actor Tom Hanks, California governor Gavin Newsom, and the president’s son Hunter Biden were secretly harming children.
The beliefs were outlandish, she conceded, but Mr DePape held them with “every ounce of his being.”
Mr DePape has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges, as well to a state case against him.
The opening day of the trial also featured testimony from one of the officers who responded to the break-in, during which Paul Pelosi surreptitiously called 911.
Police body camera footage, released to the public this year, shows DePape and Paul Pelosi struggling with a hammer. When police tell the intruder to drop the weapon, he refuses and begins striking Mr Pelosi, who was 82 at the time of the attack. The incident left Paul Pelosi in the hospital for days with injuries to the skull, arm, and hands.
Officer Kolby Willmes told the court the blows “sounded like iron hitting a skull.”
Jurors were also shown the hammer used in the break-in, and graphic photos of Mr Pelosi with a gushing head wound.
Some surprises could be in store for the rest of the federal case.
Mr DePape’s plan to kidnap Ms Pelosi was part of a larger scheme to lure out an as-of-yet unnamed additional target, according to police.
Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley has ruled the defence can summon the individual as a witness, even though federal officials objected to the proposal.
A neurosurgeon who treated Mr Pelosi is also expected to testify.
Mr DePape was a Canadian citizen living the US illegally, accoding to the Department of Homeland Security. At the time of the break-in, he was living in the garage of a house in Richmond, a Bay Area city.
The 42-year-old appeared to have published a subscription-based blog where he expressed a range of transphobic, antisemitic and racist views, alongside conspiracy theories tied to Covid-19 and QAnon, among others, according to posts reviewed by The Independent.
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