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San Francisco too liberal to give Paul Pelosi’s alleged attacker fair trial, lawyers say

Judge Alex G. Tse, right, addresses Defendant David DePape, left, during DePape’s appearance in San Francisco Superior Court on Nov. 15, 2022. DePape faces charges of attempted kidnapping of a federal officer or employee and of assault of an immediate family member of a federal official. | Vicki Behringer for The Standard

Liberal San Francisco area jurors influenced by biased media coverage believe alleged Paul Pelosi attacker David DePape is an unhinged right-wing ideologue and won’t give him a fair trial,  his lawyers argued in court documents filed Wednesday.

DePape is accused of breaking into House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco home, where he was arrested by police officers who witnessed him attack her husband with a hammer on Oct. 28, 2022. He allegedly confronted Paul Pelosi shouting, “Where is Nancy? Where is Nancy?”

“Numerous newspaper articles and editorials portray Mr. DePape as a bigot, who holds racist, antisemitic, misogynistic, Islamophobic, and homophobic beliefs,” said the motion filed by DePape’s defense. “Jurors in the San Francisco Division believed that Mr. DePape was guilty at very high rates, and that they would be unable to alter their opinions.”

Nancy Pelosi, with her husband Paul Pelosi, visits St. Peter's Basilica. | Stefano Costantino/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Examples of “unfair” media coverage cited in the filing include stories by the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner and the University of San Francisco’s student newspaper the Foghorn.

A number of juror survey respondents said they believed DePape’s attack was a direct result of right-wing extremism.

“He was radicalized by the far right and probably unstable,” said one respondent.

Another called him an “ignorant Trumper.” 

“On the Republican side, they just want to take revenge,” another said. 

Potential jurors were surveyed by phone in the San Francisco area, the Eureka area and Phoenix, Arizona, in order to ascertain the amount of relevant media coverage they were aware of and its impact on their views of the case. Survey respondents were not asked their political affiliations. 

Of the 400 San Francisco area respondents, 55% already thought DePape was guilty of attempted kidnapping, compared with only 39% of the 205 respondents from the Eureka area. 

But media and extremist watchdog groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and Media Matters say the negative coverage of DePape was countered in conservative media, which often argued that the attack had no political motivation and trafficked in conspiracy theories over what unfolded.

“The right’s extensive, well-funded media apparatus seized on the sorts of minor inconsistencies and trivialities that often characterize breaking news stories, and developed their alternative narrative,” wrote Matt Gertz for Media Matters, referencing various outlandish conspiracy theories floated after the alleged attack.  

A still from policy body cam footage showing David Depape and Paul Pelosi struggle over a hammer in the threshold of a home.
A still from police footage shows David DePape and Paul struggling over a hammer. | Courtesy San Francisco Superior Court | Source: Courtesy San Francisco Superior Court

However, none of that counter-coverage was used to argue that other venues outside of San Francisco could be unfairly prejudiced to find DePape not guilty. 

DePape faces charges of attempted murder, burglary, elder abuse, assault with a deadly weapon and threatening a family member of an elected official. A federal case, meanwhile, includes charges of attempted kidnapping of a federal officer or employee and the assault of an immediate family member of a federal official.

Depape’s federal trial is set to begin in November, and his attorneys have requested that it either be moved to Eureka or out of the Northern District of California. It remains to be seen where it will be held. Federal prosecutors did not respond to a request for comment.

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at

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