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'Tremendous Shock': Paul Pelosi Testifies in Trial of His Attacker, David DePape

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A watercolor drawing shows a white man with grey hair wearing a suit, gesturing and speaking into a microphone as another man looks on.
Paul Pelosi (right) takes the stand on Monday in the federal trial of David DePape (left), the man accused of assaulting Pelosi with a hammer and attempting to kidnap his wife, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (Vicki Behringer for KQED)

Paul Pelosi testified Monday afternoon in the federal criminal trial of David DePape, who is charged with assaulting him during a home invasion last year and attempting to kidnap his wife, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi told the court he had been asleep in his third-floor bedroom early in the morning of Oct. 28, 2022.

“The door opened, and a very large man came in,” Pelosi testified in the San Francisco courtroom, pausing to take a deep breath, “with a hammer in one hand and some ties in the other hand.”

“And he says, ‘Where’s Nancy?’ I think that woke me up,” he continued. “It was a tremendous shock to recognize someone had broken into the house. I recognized I was in serious danger.”

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Pelosi’s testimony comes on the second day of the highly anticipated trial, in which DePape faces life in prison for charges of attempting to kidnap a federal officer and assaulting a family member of a federal official. Court proceedings began on Thursday when a jury heard opening statements and testimony from several key witnesses.

Prior to Pelosi’s appearance in the courtroom Monday, jurors had been shown several graphic videos from the incident, including slow-motion footage of DePape striking the then 82-year-old multiple times in the head with a hammer and a subsequent clip of Pelosi laying on the floor in a pool of his own blood. Other footage showed Pelosi breathing nasally, which one police officer identified as “agonal breathing,” referring to when someone is gasping for air and not receiving enough oxygen.

Footage taken by emergency personnel showed Pelosi being lifted into a gurney wearing only the boxers he had been sleeping in, his face and hands covered in blood.

Pelosi testified that early in the interaction, he had tried to get into an elevator near his bedroom, but DePape blocked the door.

“He was going to tie me up and wait for her,” Pelosi said, recounting how he then managed to walk into the bathroom where his cell phone was charging and called 911.

Pelosi said he chose his words carefully during that call, the audio of which was released to the public in January.

“I was trying to convey information without aggravating him,” Pelosi testified.

Pelosi said he had intended to lead DePape downstairs and described convincing him to move to the first floor.

“My only shot was, if we go down the stairs, it would be easier for them to arrest him. God knows what he would’ve done if we were up on the third floor and the police were banging on the door downstairs,” he testified.

Pelosi recalled how DePape, likely suspecting police were on the way, then told him something like, “It’s over for me. I’m going to have to take you out.”

“I said, ‘No, the police aren’t going to come,’” Pelosi testified. “And then they were at the door.”

In court, U.S. Assistant Attorney Laura Vartain Horn asked Pelosi what his first thought was when the police arrived.

“I thought, ‘Thank God the police were here.’ There’s this huge guy with a hammer in his hand,” Pelosi said. “I didn’t know what would happen next.”

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That’s when Pelosi said he tried to get his hand on the hammer DePape was holding, demonstrating to the court how he had put his left hand over his right to try to stop the attack.

“Then he just pushed me aside and whopped me on the head,” Pelosi continued.

“What’s the next thing you remember?” Vartain Horn asked him.

“Waking up in a pool of blood,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi said the rest of the incident is largely a blur. He vaguely remembers being carried into the ambulance, speaking to paramedics and arriving at San Francisco General Hospital.

After the attack, Pelosi testified, he tried to put the incident even further out of his mind. He didn’t initially talk about it with his family and avoided viewing any of the footage from that night or listening to his 911 call.

“I’ve made the best effort I possibly can to not relive this,” Pelosi said.

But Pelosi described how, for many months after the attack, he would frequently suffer from headaches and dizziness due to his head injuries. Doctors, he added, told him to avoid bright lights or loud sounds and not to watch news on TV — but said sports were OK.

Until recently, Pelosi said he also couldn’t grow hair on the parts of his head where he had been struck, so he wore “beanies and hats” for more than eight months.

“I can still feel dents and lumps,” said Pelosi, whose hair was combed across the right side of his forehead in court on Monday. He lifted his hand and ran it from the front to the back of his head.

“They’re not as sensitive to the touch, so it’s getting better,” he added.

Earlier Monday, jurors heard testimony from a special agent with the FBI, who described surveillance footage documenting DePape’s overnight journey from his East Bay home in Richmond to the Pelosi home in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights, which he reached around 2 a.m. Other witnesses for the prosecution on Monday laid out DePape’s internet search history as he sought addresses for Nancy Pelosi and a host of other targets, including actor Tom Hanks, U.S. Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff and President Biden’s son Hunter Biden.

Only a few witnesses remain on the prosecution’s witness list, including a neurosurgeon at San Francisco General Hospital, who is expected to testify Tuesday.

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