Failed legal gambit in Pelosi trial weakens attacker’s case in parallel state trial

Failed legal gambit in Pelosi trial weakens attacker’s case in parallel state trial

SAN FRANCISCO — David DePape took big risks using a longshot defense in his federal trial — with his lawyers saying he was living in an alternate, conspiracy-failed reality when he bludgeoned Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s husband. That failed strategy makes his legal peril worse as he turns to a parallel state case.

On Thursday a San Francisco jury convicted him on two counts of attempted kidnapping and assault in a matter of hours. DePape’s court-appointed attorneys also put their client on the witness stand, where he offered a bizarre self-justifying account of an attack that left the 83-year-old Paul Pelosi with a fractured skull.

Now he faces round two with San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, who declared after the verdict that she is ready to move forward with a state case that could add substantially more years to the 50 DePape could get on the federal charges.

“This is probably a wake-up call to Mr. DePape and his lawyers that the jury didn’t believe the defense’s case and didn’t believe him,” said Adam Gasner, a longtime criminal defense attorney in San Francisco. “The defense was not denying that he was the culprit, and that he committed these acts of violence.”

One obvious solution to more jail time would be a plea bargain — if Jenkins is willing to offer one and DePape is amenable to accepting it.

The 43-year-old Canadian, who was living in a garage in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time of the attack, faces five state charges: attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, false imprisonment and residential burglary. If convicted, he could get up to life in prison.

In the pending state trial, the jurors will have DePape’s courtroom testimony, video of the attack from police body cameras, a confession to law enforcement and a jailhouse interview with a local TV station.

That’s a pretty bleak case for anyone even with a jury in famously liberal San Francisco.

DePape’s rambling and conspiracy-filled testimony in the federal case could also discourage prosecutors from offering him a palatable plea deal. In addition, Jenkins might be inclined to want a back-up conviction if DePape’s attorneys appeal the federal verdict — a highly likely next step. The defense hasn’t said what it plans to do next.

“There’s not a lot of incentive to give this guy a break especially since he chose to testify in the way he did,” said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and criminal law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “His goal seems to be to use the courtroom to get out his political message. That courtroom is his stage.”

The defense’s strategy in the federal trial was an attempt to beat the charges on a Hail Mary argument. DePape’s counsel said while his actions were brutal and undeniable, the attack was unrelated to the former House speaker’s official role in Congress and the federal charges required prosecutors to prove that was his intent. DePape’s attorneys said he was instead driven by his sincere belief in a make-believe conspiracy that the congressmember was part of an elite cabal determined to destroy the nation.

That argument fell flat with jurors, who heard a mountain of evidence about DePape’s beliefs that Rep. Pelosi had unfairly smeared former President Donald Trump and was part of a corrupt group of political leaders.

Much of the focus in state court will be on the attempted murder charge because DePape and his attorneys already admitted in federal court that he assaulted Paul Pelosi and broke into the home. But the question of whether DePape intended to kill Pelosi when he hit him in the head with a hammer is a new one.

“That will likely be the central legal issue in the state court case,” Gasner said.

Public defenders could latch onto DePape’s testimony that he didn’t want to hurt Paul Pelosi, who was not on his target list, and lashed only when police arrived at the home and foiled his plot to abduct the speaker.

“I reacted because my plan was basically ruined,” DePape told the federal jury, claiming that he felt bad for hurting Paul Pelosi because he thought they’d developed a “good rapport.”

If Jenkins moves forward with the attempted murder charge, her office could also point to DePape’s own words. He told police he was on a “suicide mission” and that anyone who stopped him would “take the punishment instead.”

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