SAN FRANCISCO — It all happened in a matter of seconds, from the moment the police arrived at the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and encountered an intruder with a large hammer to when her husband, Paul Pelosi, was lying unconscious on the floor.
“Mr. Pelosi was face down on the ground, a pool of blood by his head,” said Kyle Cagney, one of the two San Francisco police officers first to arrive in the early hours of Oct. 28, during a court hearing on Wednesday.
The suspect in the case, David DePape, dressed in orange jail clothes, his hair long and scraggly, sat quietly next to his attorney during the hearing, in which prosecutors presented much of their evidence against him in front of a state judge to determine if the case would move forward.
Mr. DePape said in a police interview hours after the attack that he had other targets, including Gavin Newsom, the Democratic governor of California; the actor Tom Hanks; Hunter Biden, the son of President Biden; and the feminist writer and anthropologist Gayle Rubin, according to testimony on Wednesday.
Prosecutors on Wednesday played an audio recording of the interview that Mr. DePape gave to the police in which he admitted to busting into the Pelosi home in the upscale Pacific Heights neighborhood through a back door, on a mission to capture the House speaker, interrogate her and break her kneecaps if she “lied” to him.
Ms. Pelosi, though, was in Washington. Instead, the authorities say Mr. DePape, armed with a hammer and carrying zip ties, found Mr. Pelosi asleep in his bed.
The attack, coming 11 days before the midterm elections, rattled the nation’s political class and heightened fears of politically motivated violence in a polarized country. The assailant’s repeated cries of, “Where’s Nancy? Where’s Nancy?” as he confronted Mr. Pelosi echoed the chants of some of the rioters during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The Attack on Paul Pelosi
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband was attacked inside their San Francisco home on Oct. 28. The suspect faces federal and state charges.
- What We Know: The attack on Paul Pelosi became the focus of baseless conspiracy theories propagated by Republicans. Here are the facts, according to court documents and officials.
- The Suspect: Interviews with those who know the man accused of the attack described indications of a troubled individual and growing signs of politically fueled hate.
- Fears of Political Violence Rise: The attack came as threats against members of Congress and their families have increased in recent years.
Ms. Pelosi herself had long been the subject of attacks by right-wing officials who often used dehumanizing language to describe her, and some Republicans mocked the beating of her husband soon after it happened.
The purpose of Wednesday’s preliminary hearing was for a judge to weigh the evidence against Mr. DePape and determine whether it was sufficient to move forward to a trial — and, if so, on what charges. During the morning part of the proceeding, prosecutors provided the fullest account to date of what they say happened during the attack.
Among the evidence was body-camera footage of the attack, showing that when the police arrived, Mr. Pelosi and Mr. DePape were standing, each with a hand on a hammer. They appeared calm, until an officer told them to drop the tool. That is when Mr. DePape took control of the hammer and lunged at Mr. Pelosi, striking him once, according to the video.
“Really hard,” Mr. Cagney said when asked by a prosecutor to describe the force of the hammer attack. During his testimony, Mr. Cagney showed the court the hammer, measuring more than a foot long, that he said was used to bludgeon Mr. Pelosi.
The hearing began with prosecutors playing a recording of a call that Mr. Pelosi made to 911 shortly after the intruder woke him up. During the call, Mr. Pelosi speaks calmly but emphatically, seemingly trying to convey to the operator that he is in danger but without alarming the intruder threatening his life.
Mr. Pelosi said on the call that there was “a gentleman here waiting for my wife to come back.” He told the operator who his wife was, and at one point the intruder in the background could be heard saying, “The name is David.”
Mr. DePape faces multiple felony charges in state court, including attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. The Justice Department has also accused him of the federal crimes of attempted kidnapping of a federal officer and assault on a family member of a federal official. If convicted, Mr. DePape could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Ms. Pelosi will no longer be speaker next month since Democrats lost control of the House during the midterm elections, albeit by a slimmer margin than had been expected. She also will step down as the leader of House Democrats, giving way to Representative Hakeem Jefferies of New York, who will take her place.
Mr. Pelosi spent six days in a San Francisco hospital, where he underwent surgery for a skull fracture and treatment for injuries to his hands and right arm. Ms. Pelosi said after the attack that he was facing “a long recovery process.” Earlier this month, Mr. Pelosi made his first appearance in public since the incident by attending the Kennedy Center Honors with his wife in Washington.
According to a federal indictment returned by a grand jury in early November, Mr. DePape told investigators that he viewed Ms. Pelosi as the “leader of the pack” of lies told by Democratic officials, and that he sought to break Ms. Pelosi’s kneecaps and wheel her into Congress as an example to other politicians. He also said that he had a list of other politicians he planned to target.
Two of the targets named in court on Wednesday, Mr. Newsom and Hunter Biden, have been frequently criticized by conservatives, just as Ms. Pelosi has been.
As the case moves forward, Mr. DePape’s copious online writings, where he seemed to embrace the QAnon and Pizzagate conspiracy theories and made bigoted and sexist remarks, are likely to come under scrutiny as investigators seek to trace how he became radicalized.
Mr. DePape, a Canadian citizen who had been living in the United States illegally, has largely been estranged from family members, who in interviews described him as quiet and apolitical, and as someone who was obsessed with video games as a boy.
In recent years, though, the many hours he spent online playing video games appeared to be his gateway to the virulent right-wing conspiracy theories that have proliferated on the internet. According to his own writings, it was the online harassment campaign known as Gamergate that introduced him to the darker corners of the internet. Gamergate began in 2014 as a backlash against feminist critiques of the gaming industry but metastasized into death threats and misogynistic attacks.
“How did I get into all this,” Mr. DePape wrote in one passage on his blog. “Gamer Gate it was gamer gate.”
By the time he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in his 20s, Mr. DePape was in a relationship with Oxane Taub, a locally famous activist who made headlines for protesting in the nude and is now in prison for attempting to abduct a 14-year-old boy in 2018. The couple had two children, and Mr. DePape appeared to live the life of a Bay Area radical — experimenting with psychedelics, protesting against the Iraq War and selling hemp bracelets for extra money. He once registered as a member of the Green Party in San Francisco after attesting to being eligible to vote.
In 2015, after breaking up with Ms. Taub and becoming estranged from his own children, Mr. DePape lived for a time in a park in Berkeley, Calif. He eventually found carpentry work, and later a roof over his head at a garage apartment in Richmond, Calif. After the attack, investigators searched the place and found two hammers, a sword and a pair of rubber gloves.
Notably absent as a witness on Wednesday was Mr. Pelosi himself. If the case goes to trial, Mr. Pelosi would almost certainly be called to the stand by the prosecution.