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Prosecutors to Push for Terrorism Enhancement in Sentencing of David DePape, Who Bludgeoned Paul Pelosi in 2022

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A courtroom sketch of a person with long hair holding a hammer in a plastic bag and pointing at another person as a judge and jury watch on.
A courtroom sketch of federal prosecutor Laura Vartain Horn (right) giving her opening statement in a San Francisco courtroom in the trial of David DePape (left) on Nov. 9, 2023. U.S. District Court Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley (center) looks on as Horn displays the hammer DePape allegedly used to attack Paul Pelosi in his San Francisco home last year. (Vicki Behringer for KQED)

The man who broke into former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco home in 2022 and bludgeoned her husband, Paul Pelosi, in the head with a hammer is set to be sentenced in federal court on Friday.

Prosecutors argue that David DePape should be sentenced to 40 years in prison because his violent plot to kidnap Pelosi amounts to terrorism. DePape’s attorneys are seeking a 14-year sentence, arguing that his mental illness left him susceptible to the extremist conspiracy theories that fueled his actions.

“At a time when extremism has led to attacks on public and elected officials, this case presents a moment to speak to others harboring ideologically motivated violent dreams and plans,” the government argued in a May 10 sentencing memorandum. “The defendant planned a violent hostage-taking of the Speaker Emerita and then nearly killed her husband.”

Rory Little, a law professor at UC Law San Francisco, said federal prosecutors are trying to make a point about the gravity of DePape’s crimes.

“They’re saying this is a really serious attack on an important federal official, and you need to take it seriously,” he said.


DePape, 44, was convicted by a federal jury in November of one count of attempted kidnapping of a federal officer and one count of assault on the immediate family member of a federal official.

Defense attorneys argue that applying the terrorism enhancement would be an illegal overreach because neither of the crimes he was convicted of fit within the legal definition of a “federal crime of terrorism.”

“His entire adult life was indelibly shaped and distorted by an abusive, long-term relationship,” DePape’s attorneys argue in their sentencing memorandum. They say he became “completely unmoored in the years leading up to the offense when he was further radicalized through his obsessive consumption of media amplifying extreme beliefs.”

The U.S. Probation Office recommends 25 years, followed by five years of supervised release.

At a weeklong trial late last year, the jury heard and saw a mountain of evidence against DePape, including video footage of the break-in and attack and his repeated confessions.

DePape broke into the Pelosi home early in the morning on Oct. 28, 2022, looking for the congresswoman, who he planned to kidnap and question on video. Nancy Pelosi wasn’t home. DePape instead woke up Paul Pelosi, who then managed to call 911 from a bathroom.

Body cam footage showed that when police arrived at the house, Pelosi opened the door with one hand on a hammer that DePape was holding. Both men appeared calm. But after an officer told DePape to drop the hammer, he responded, “Nope,” and abruptly turned to Pelosi, striking him violently on the head with the tool.

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DePape later told police that if he had found Nancy Pelosi and she had lied, he would have broken her kneecaps, according to court records.

“He also told Mr. Pelosi that Speaker Emerita Pelosi was ‘the leader of the pack’ and that the defendant ‘had to take her out,’” the government’s sentencing memo reads.

“Lurking in the background of this is the idea that this guy is dangerous because he appears to have a mentally unbalanced view of the world, and he doesn’t appear to have retreated from that mental imbalance,” said Little, the law professor.

According to his own testimony during his trial, DePape planned to wear an inflatable unicorn costume while livestreaming his questioning of Pelosi, but she wasn’t his ultimate target. Rather, he hoped to lure feminist theorist and cultural anthropologist at the University of Michigan Gayle Rubin, whose identity is sealed in federal court behind the pseudonym “Target 1.”

“Target 1” is among those subpoenaed for the sentencing hearing on Friday, according to court records.

DePape’s attorneys argue that previously undiagnosed mental health issues made him vulnerable to “manipulation and unusual beliefs.”

“Mr. DePape’s beliefs did not come out of nowhere,” a sentencing memo said, adding that a redacted mental health condition “made him ‘especially vulnerable to believing QAnon conspiracy theories, and to being especially psychologically affected by their content.’”

“QAnon adherents rarely self-identity as such, and Mr. DePape is no different. But his beliefs are consistent with QAnon theories,” attorneys wrote.

The prosecution argues that DePape’s isolation and consumption of YouTube videos “do not excuse the instant offense, nor give a reason for leniency given the violent extremism that the defendant unleashed in October 2022.”

His defense attorneys said his actions were also heavily influenced by his relationship with the pro-nudity activist Gypsy Taub, with whom DePape shares three children.

“His long-term relationship with his ex-partner, Gypsy Taub, inflicted immeasurable harm to his mental state and what little support network he had in the form of his family,” they argue.

Prosecutors argue DePape hasn’t accepted responsibility for his crimes and is proud of what he did, pointing to his jail-house January 2023 phone call to a KTVU reporter, during which he apologized to the American people, saying he should have come “better prepared” to the Pelosis’ home on the night of the attack.

“You’re welcome,” he told the TV station. “The tree of liberty isn’t dying. It’s being killed, systematically and deliberately.” He added, “The tree of liberty needs watering.”

DePape is currently in custody at the San Francisco County Jail. U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley is set to deliver DePape’s sentence in federal court on Friday morning.

A second trial in state court will start in the coming weeks. In that case, DePape is facing charges including attempted murder, residential burglary, seriously injuring an elder adult, assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment and threatening a public official’s family member.

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