Suspect David DePape pleads not guilty

David DePape, the suspect charged in the highly politicized hammerhead attack on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and other charges on Tuesday afternoon in his first court appearance .

During his arraignment in San Francisco Superior Court, Judge Diane Northway ordered DePape held without bond, while leaving open the possibility of reviewing that decision at a later date. Northway also signed a protective order that prohibits DePape from contacting Paul or Nancy Pelosi or coming within 150 yards of the couple’s home.

A judge was to set a date for a preliminary hearing in the DePape case on Friday.

Tuesday’s hearing, which lasted just a few minutes, marked the first time DePape has been seen in public since he allegedly broke into Pelosis’ San Francisco home early Friday morning and punched Paul Pelosi in the face. head with a hammer.

DePape, dressed in a neon orange prison outfit and wearing his wavy brown hair over his shoulders, spoke only to answer procedural questions.

The proceedings marked a simple step in a story that has become riven by conspiracy theories and social media-amplified misinformation at a pace that has left law enforcement officials scrambling to catch up.

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins charged DePape with attempted murder, first-degree burglary, elder abuse, assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment of an elder, threats against a civil servant’s family member and a list of improvements.

DePape allegedly told officers after his arrest that he “didn’t really mean to hurt” Paul Pelosi, but was on a “suicide mission”, according to court documents, motivated by his self-proclaimed revulsion at the “level of lies coming from Washington, DC”

DePape also reportedly told police he also planned to target an unnamed “local professor” and other federal and state politicians and their relatives.

DePepe also faces kidnapping and assault charges in a separate federal case.

In a brief statement to reporters after Tuesday’s hearing, Deputy Public Defender Adam Lipson, who represents DePape, hinted at a possible insanity defense. Noting widespread speculation about his client’s susceptibility to misinformation, Lipson said it was something the defense team would “dig into.”

Lipson said DePape was being held in a San Francisco County Jail.

Police said they were called to the scene before 3 a.m. Friday when Paul Pelosi, 82, managed to contact authorities with a surreptitious 911 call.

Upon arrival, police said they saw the pair fighting over a hammer which was used to hit Pelosi at least once.

Paul Pelosi, who was questioned by police in an ambulance at San Francisco General Hospital, said he had never seen DePape until that evening. When DePape entered the bedroom, he told Paul Pelosi he wanted to talk to “Nancy.”

After his arrest on Friday, DePape reportedly confessed to officers that he broke into Pelosis’ San Francisco home in order to get to Nancy Pelosi, who was in Washington, DC at the time of the attack.

“DePape said he was going to take Nancy hostage and talk to her,” prosecutors said in federal court papers filed Monday, where they charged him with assaulting the immediate family member of a federal official who attempted to kidnap a federal official.

“If Nancy were to tell DePape the ‘truth,’ he would let her go, and if she ‘lied,’ he was going to break her ‘kneecaps,'” the documents state.

DePape said he didn’t expect Nancy Pelosi to tell the truth.

DePape allegedly explained to investigators that if Nancy Pelosi’s kneecaps were broken, she would have to be “taken to Congress, which would show other members of Congress that actions had consequences,” court records say. DePape described the speaker as the “‘ringleader’ of lies told by the Democratic Party.”

Prior to the attack, DePape was seen by his family and acquaintances as someone adrift who lived largely in obscurity after a stint as part of a local nudist movement a decade ago.

But the social media screeds DePape apparently wrote in the months and days leading up to the attack paint a picture of a man who had clung to various right-wing conspiracy theories, including QAnon, whose adherents believe former President Donald Trump opposes an alliance of Satan-worshipping Democratic pedophiles.

The blog, which has now been deleted, also included bigoted comments aimed at people of color, women, Jews, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community and immigrants.

Fueled in large part by the far-right fringes of social media, the case in recent days has taken another dark turn as bizarre and largely anti-LGBTQ conspiracy theories about the attack have been amplified by some of the most visible public figures in the country, including Elon Musk and Donald Trump.

Prosecutors relayed a message from Pelosis on Tuesday, which asked the public to respect his privacy.

Megan Cassidy is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: megan.cassidy@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @meganrcassidy

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