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Paul Pelosi testifies in federal trial of David DePape, accused in hammer attack; "I recognized I was in serious danger"

Paul Pelosi takes stand to testify in federal trial of David DePape
Paul Pelosi takes stand to testify in federal trial of David DePape 02:29

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. 

Paul Pelosi on Monday described on the witness stand the shocking intrusion at his and his wife Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco mansion last year that culminated in a brutal hammer attack that fractured his skull.

The testimony came during the federal trial of David DePape, accused of assaulting Pelosi and planning to kidnap the former House Speaker.

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

During his testimony, Paul Pelosi described the moment on Oct. 28, 2022 when he was awakened to find an intruder in his bedroom. 

Q: What woke you up?

A: The door opened and a very large man came in with a hammer in one hand and some [zip]ties in the other

Q: When you first saw the defendant, were you lying down?

A: Yes, and asleep. When he burst through the door he woke me up.   

Q: How far was he from you?  

A: He was standing in the doorway, he was 3 to 4 feet [away] ... It was a tremendous shock, looking at him, looking at the hammer and the ties … I recognized I was in serious danger I tried to stay as calm as possible.   

Paul Pelosi (center) testifies at the federal trial of David DePape (left) as he is questioned by prosecutor Laura Vartain-Horn, Nov. 13, 2023. Sketch by Vicki Behringer

Pelosi said DePape asked several times, "Where's Nancy?" and he told him that she was in Washington DC, to which he responded that he was going to have to wait for her.

"He said, she was the leader of the pack, he had to take her out, he was going to wait for her," said Pelosi. "He was going to tie me up and wait for her."

UPDATE: Tearful David DePape testifies in the Paul Pelosi assault trial; "I'm sorry that he got hurt"

Pelosi said he was able to walk over to his bathroom where his cellphone was charging and he grabbed it and called 911. He also testified there are surveillance cameras inside the couple's Pacific Heights home as well as an alarm system. However, on the night of the attack, Pelosi said he didn't set the alarm because he only set it when he left the house. 

When police arrived at the house, Pelosi said he was relieved that he had apparently avoided the worst. But after an officer ordered DePape to drop the hammer, he instead pushed Pelosi and "whacked me on the head." Pelosi said he remember later waking up in a pool of blood.

Pelosi's daughter Christine Pelosi sat in the back of the courtroom watching and listening intently as her father recounted the violent attack. 

"I've tried to put it out of my mind"

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 the performance of their duties.

The attack, just days before that year's midterm elections, also left Pelosi with serious injuries to his right arm and hands aside from his skull fracture. He underwent surgery following the assault and Pelosi testified Monday that he is close to full recovery and has tried to turn the page. 

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 14, 2022: Speaker of the House Nancy
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 14, 2022: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) attends the ceremony of the unveiling of her official portrait, along with husband Paul Pelosi, in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington DC Wednesday, December 14, 2022. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images) The Washington Post

"I have not discussed this incident with anybody. And I have encouraged my family not to either," he said Monday. "I have tried to put it out of my mind. It wasn't until [the prosecutor's] meeting with you and your associates that I talked about this. I've made the best effort that I possibly can to not re-live this."

"The government is showing that an assault happened, and that DePape knew that he was committing an assault. That's really all they have to show," explained UC San Francisco law professor Rory Little.

Public defenders did not ask Pelosi any questions.   

"It would have been a mistake to cross examine him. I don't think he had anything to say that could possibly have aided their client," said Little

Law enforcement testimony, surveillance video

Earlier Monday, a number of law enforcement officials testified about the attack and the investigation, including two FBI agents - one who collected the electronics DePape was carrying and another who presented surveillance video of DePape's movements on BART and San Francisco Muni hours before the attack.

Other testimony came from a U.S. Capitol police officer who watches the surveillance cameras at the Pelosis' home and another who has protected Nancy Pelosi since 2006. U.S. Capitol Special Agent Dwight Littlejohn arrived at the start of his 6 a.m. shift at the Speaker's DC residence on Oct. 28 and learned about the assault on Paul Pelosi; both departed to San Francisco later that day. 

Some of the witnesses helped verify time stamps on footage from surveillance cameras at the Pelosis' home, which are set to Eastern Time, and on BART trains, which were an hour behind Pacific Time.

Prosecutors exhibited surveillance video of DePape smashing through the glass patio door of the home, as well as slow-motion body camera footage of the attack from one of the officers who responded to Paul Pelosi's 911 call. 

Still from police bodycam video released by San Francisco Superior Court showing suspect David DePape and Paul Pelosi appearing to hold a hammer. San Francisco Superior Court

Another witness was Jason Matthes, the chief legal officer for Spokeo, a search engine that allows people to look up personal addresses and contact information from online and offline sources. Matthes testified that DePape searched for Nancy Pelosi's information seven days before the attack.

Defense attorney Jodi Linker told jurors last week that she won't dispute that DePape attacked Paul Pelosi in an encounter caught on police body camera video. Instead, she will argue that he believed "with every ounce of his being" that he was taking action to stop government corruption and the abuse of children by politicians and actors. She said that means the government's charges that DePape was trying to retaliate or interfere with Nancy Pelosi's official duties don't fit.

Federal prosecutor Laura Vartain Horn told jurors during opening statements Thursday that DePape started planning the attack in August and that the evidence and FBI testimony will show he researched his targets online, collecting phone numbers and addresses, even paying for a public records service to find information about Nancy Pelosi and others.

ALSO READ: Gov. Gavin Newsom accuses Fox News of "creating a culture" that led to attack on Paul Pelosi

It's unclear if Depape will testify in the coming days, or take the 5th and remain silent.

"The entire case is going to depend on what DePape says. And if he doesn't say anything, it seems very difficult for the defense to really make any kind of defense at all," saod Little.

The prosecution's last witness, a neurosurgeon, is expected to testify tomorrow when the trial resumes Tuesday. 

If convicted, DePape faces up to 50 years prison. He also 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.

After his arrest, DePape, 43, allegedly told a San Francisco detective that he wanted to hold Nancy Pelosi hostage. He said if she told him the truth, he would let her go and if she lied, he was going to "break her kneecaps" to show other members of Congress there were "consequences to actions," according to prosecutors.

DePape, who lived in a garage in the Bay Area city of Richmond and had been doing odd carpentry jobs to support himself, allegedly told authorities he had other targets, including a women's and queer studies professor, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, actor Tom Hanks and President Joe Biden's son Hunter. 

Kathleen Seccombe and Kenny Choi contributed to this report. This story has been updated to correct the potential sentence DePape faces.

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