Judge orders release of 911 call, evidence in Paul Pelosi attack

A California judge on Wednesday ordered the release of pivotal evidence related to the October attack on former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, including a recording of his 911 call and police body-camera footage.

David DePape is accused of breaking into the lawmaker’s San Francisco home one early morning in late October and attacking Paul Pelosi with a hammer, fracturing the 82-year-old’s skull and causing other serious injuries.

A coalition of at least a dozen news organizations, including The Times, asked the court to order the San Francisco district attorney’s office to release copies of the records already submitted into evidence, arguing that the news media and public had a right to review them.

DePape’s lawyers opposed making that evidence public, saying it could jeopardize his right to a fair trial and stir up more misinformation about the case. The attack on Pelosi spawned a flurry of unfounded conspiracy theories online, including on popular social media platforms.

San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Stephen Murphy disagreed with those objections, dismissing them as speculation. He said that while the right to a fair trail is “certainly a legitimate concern in any case,” the court couldn’t withhold the release of records out of fear that they could be manipulated.

During a preliminary hearing in December, several pieces of evidence in the case against DePape were played or reviewed in court, including the 911 call, portions of police body-camera video, portions of the police interview with DePape and footage from a Capitol Police surveillance camera. Murphy ruled that prosecutors had presented sufficient evidence to move forward with a criminal trial. DePape has pleaded not guilty.

DePape, who attended Wednesday’s hearing wearing a black face mask, orange sweater and sweatpants and with his hair pulled back into a low ponytail, faces charges of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, false imprisonment, first-degree burglary and threatening the family member of a public official.

In a court filing, the attorney for the news organizations had argued that the public and news media had a right to access the pretrial evidence submitted during the December hearing, and that because the records had already been played and reviewed and then reported on in the media, their release would not “identify sensitive witnesses or pose any privacy risk.”

“This is just such a case where the public interest in openness is paramount. Defendant is accused of entering the residence of the then-Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (second in the Presidential line of succession) with the apparent intent of, at minimum, grievously injuring her, and attacking her husband,” the filing stated. “The nature of the alleged crime justifies a maximum amount of transparency.

“As courts repeatedly have recognized, the right of access ensures that members of the public and their surrogates in the press are able to monitor and scrutinize the justice system and the performance of police, prosecutors, and judges as they carry out vital public functions,” the court filing stated.

DePape’s attorneys argued that releasing the records could taint the jury pool and threaten their client’s constitutional right to a fair trial.

“I don’t think any of the cases are quite like this case with the amount of conspiracy theories already floating out there in this case,” public defender Adam Lipson said in court. “There’s just been so much information out there, so many false stories published, the spread of the media, from mainstream media to fringe media to internet media to social media, is just so much greater today than even two years ago.”

The district attorney’s office raised the same issue to the court, arguing that access to pretrial records is not an “unfettered right” and that 1st Amendment rights had “been well respected and are not implicated” in this case.

With Murphy’s ruling, the district attorney’s office immediately handed over the exhibits to the court. The court’s clerk is working on making the records available to the public.

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