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Tearful David DePape testifies in the Paul Pelosi assault trial; "Thought he was dead"

David DePape gives tearful testimony in his federal assault trial
David DePape gives tearful testimony in his federal assault trial 02:10

Editor's Note: The above video of this story incorrectly states the possible federal sentence as "life" when it is a maximum of 50-years. The text below has been updated and corrected. 

David DePape took the stand Tuesday morning in his federal trial and tearfully recounted his motivations - fueled by conspiracy theories and right-wing media - that led to the bludgeoning of Paul Pelosi, husband of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, at their San Francisco mansion last year.

UPDATE: David DePape found guilty of federal charges in Paul Pelosi assault

The 43-year-old DePape described in detail his far-fetched plan to single-handedly "take down" a series of high-profile figures that have been demonized over the year in right-wing media. During his testimony, DePape burst into tears when he was asked about transitioning from being "left-wing" to becoming more conservative.  

"Biased against Trump"

"At that time I was biased against Trump. But there's, like, truth there," he said, sobbing. "So if there's truth out there that I don't know, I want to know it."

David DePape weeps while testifying at his federal trial in the attack on Paul Pelosi, Nov. 14, 2023. Sketch by Vicki Behringer

Originally from Canada, DePape said he was doing carpentry and living in a friend's garage in Richmond at the time of the attack, using bathrooms at parks or restaurants. He testified that he spent endless hours playing video games as well as watching and listening to political content online. 

DePape said he mainly watched YouTube videos and listened to podcasts from the likes of Tim Pool, Glenn Beck and conservative media outlets, He described his worldview as taking up a battle against a sinister cabal of government officials, celebrities, and pedophiles driving the country to ruin, echoing baseless Q-Anon diatribes.

The defense claims said the attack at the Pelosis' home was part of a bigger plan to end corruption in the U.S. DePape has pleaded not guilty to attempted kidnapping of a federal official and assault on the immediate family member of a federal official with intent to retaliate against the official for performance of their duties. 

His attorneys argue that he was not seeking to go after Nancy Pelosi because of her official duties as a member of Congress and so the charges do not fit.

The attack happened in the early hours of Oct. 28, 2022, just days before the midterm elections. DePape said he went to the Pelosis' home to talk to Nancy Pelosi about Russian involvement in the 2016 election, and that he planned to wear an inflatable unicorn costume and upload his interrogation of her online. Prosecutors say he had rope and zip ties with him.

Questionable plan

Defense attorney Jodi Linker told jurors last week that DePape believed he was taking action to stop government corruption, the erosion of freedom in the United States, and the abuse of children by politicians and actors.

In testimony Monday, Paul Pelosi recounted the attack publicly for the first time, He recalled being awakened by a man bursting into the bedroom door asking, "Where's Nancy?" He said that when he responded that his wife was in Washington, DePape said he would tie him up while they waited for her.

Pelosi testified he tried to remain calm and affable while managing to call 911. On the stand Tuesday, DePape testified that he felt really bad for Pelosi after hearing testimony from a neurosurgeon who operated on him after the attack. Pelosi underwent surgery to repair a skull fracture and injuries to his right arm and hands.

"We had a good rapport going on," said DePape on the stand Tuesday. "I gave him a squeeze on the shoulder to be reassuring. The idea of restraining him didn't really occur to me."

DePape bludgeoned Pelosi on the head when officers appeared at the Pelosi front door to find the men grappling over the hammer.

"I reacted because my plan was basically ruined," DePape said when asked why he hit Pelosi.

"I actually thought he was dead until I heard the charges," he said. "He was never my target and I am sorry he got hurt." 

Multiple Targets

DePape testified that his plan was to get to Nancy Pelosi and other targets to admit to their corruption and eventually get President Joe Biden to pardon them all. His list of targets also included Hunter Biden, Congressman Adam Schiff, former Attorney General Bill Barr, Tom Hanks, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

"It's just easier giving them a pardon so we can move forward as a country," he said, crying.

"There is a sympathy defense here. A sympathy defense is not a legal defense.  A sympathy defense is an attempt to get a jury to acquit or to hang," explained UC San Francisco law professor Rory Little. "The intent for the defense is to have compassion for this guy. There's no doubt here that DePape is presented as a sympathetic figure; a sad, almost pathetic and deluded person."

Also on DePape's list was Bay Area scholar Dr. Gayle Rubin, a leading academic in feminist theory and queer studies and a cultural anthropologist at the University of Michigan, previously identified in court papers as "Target 1."  

DePape stated besides Hunter Biden, Target 1 was at the top of his list and he planned to go to Rubin, a target of right-wing groups over her writings that have been misconstrued and which are now used to demonize the LGBTQ community. 

U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley ordered her name not be put in the public record because of threats against her. However, Rubin has been identified as Target 1 by both prosecutors and defense attorneys as well as in published reports.

"Because she is a pedo activist. she wants to turn all the schools into pedo factories," DePape testified about why he Rubin on his list. "if she was just a pedo activist I probably wouldn't have targeted her.  

DePape said he looked up Rubin's home but it appeared on maps to be difficult to gain entry. His hope was to use Pelosi to get to Rubin.

"I figured Target 1 would know Nancy and be attracted to her celebrity,' he said.

David DePape trial
Dr. Gayle Rubin (2nd from top right) testifies as Target 1 at the federal trial of David DePape, Nov. 14, 2023 in San Francisco. Sketch by Vicki Behringer

Rubin testified using the "Target 1" pseudonym Tuesday, saying "Absolutely not," when asked if she supported the sexual abuse of children. She also said her workplace had to take measures to ensure her safety following word that DePape had her at the top of his list.  

"Regardless of how sympathetic they may be, and that is where, if they follow the law, it sounds to me like they will have to vote to convict," said Little.

Closing arguments begin when the trial resumes on Wednesday, when the jury could also deliver its verdict. 

f convicted, DePape faces up to 50 years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty to charges in state court of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, residential burglary and other felonies. A state trial has not been scheduled.

Kenny Choi, Kathleen Seccombe, and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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