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petnews April 8th, 2002 10:34 AM

California woman whose dogs killed killed neighbour convicted of murder
[B]California woman whose dogs killed killed neighbour convicted of murder[/B]

March 21, 2002.

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A woman whose two huge dogs mauled a neighbour to death in their San Francisco apartment building was convicted Thursday of murder, a charge almost never levelled in an animal attack.

Her husband was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Marjorie Knoller, 46, could face 15 years to life in prison for the second-degree murder conviction in last year's death of 33-year-old Diane Whipple, whose throat was ripped open in a gruesome attack that left the hallway spattered with blood.

Knoller looked stricken upon hearing the verdict, fighting back tears and turning to look at her parents.

She appeared to mouth: "Help."

Her 60-year-old husband, Robert Noel, showed no reaction. Both were convicted on the manslaughter charge, as well as having a mischievous dog that killed someone. Those charges carry up to four years each.

Sentencing was set for May 10 in San Francisco. In all, the jury deliberated for 11 hours over three days before convicting the couple on all counts.

A large group of Whipple's friends and her domestic partner, Sharon Smith, burst into tears in the courtroom.

"There's no real joy in this but certainly some measure of justice for Diane was done today," Smith said later.

"I'm glad to see the jury didn't buy some of the smokescreens that were put in front of them."

The jurors reached verdicts on everything but the murder count Wednesday. They said they took up the murder charge last, realizing it was the most serious charge and the most difficult.

Juror Shawn Antonio, 27, said the jurors repeatedly watched a TV interview of Knoller in which she disavowed responsibility for Whipple's death.

"There was no kind of sympathy, no kind of apologies," he said.

"It helped us a lot."

It was the first murder conviction in a dog-mauling case in California and was believed to be only the third of its kind in recent U.S. history.

In pursuing the charge, prosecutors said the husband-and-wife lawyers knew their two powerful Presa Canarios were "time bombs," and they brought in more than 30 witnesses who said they had been terrorized by the dogs, Bane and Hera, which both outweighed the 110-pound victim.

The defence contended Knoller and Noel could not have known their animals would kill and Knoller tried to save Whipple by throwing herself between her neighbour and the enraged Bane. They also disputed the witnesses's accounts of being menaced by the dogs.

The gruesome case was a sensation in San Francisco: Whipple was savagely killed outside her door in exclusive Pacific Heights by an exotic breed known for its ferocity.

Soon word spread that the owners were lawyers who specialized in lawsuits on behalf of convicts. They were also in the process of adopting a prisoner, white-supremacist gang member Paul Schneider, who officials said was trying to run a business raising Presa Canarios for use as guard dogs.

The couple acquired the dogs from a farm in 2000 after Schneider complained the animals were being turned into "wusses." The dogs' former caretaker later testified she had warned Knoller that Hera was so dangerous it "should have been shot."

After the attack Jan. 26, 2001, Knoller and Noel defiantly blamed the victim. Noel, who was not present during the attack and was not charged with murder, suggested Whipple may have attracted the dogs' attention with her perfume or even steroids.

"It's not my fault," Knoller said in the TV interview that was played for the jury.

"Ms. Whipple had ample opportunity to move into her apartment. She could have just slammed the door shut."

"I would have."

In closing arguments, the prosecutor called her tone "cold as ice."

"Marjorie, from what I could see, never took any responsibility until it was convenient for her to do so at trial," the victim's mother, Penny Whipple-Kelly, said afterward.

"They had tried all along to blame my daughter and anybody else that they possibly could instead of looking at themselves."

The trial was moved to Los Angeles because of concern heavy publicity would prevent a fair trial in San Francisco. The attack so traumatized the usually pet-friendly city that police tightened enforcement of leash laws and city officials briefly considered a muzzle law.

The case made legal history even before the trial began when Whipple's partner, Smith, claimed the same right as a spouse to sue for damages. The California legislature enacted a law to allow such lawsuits by homosexual partners.

Pretrial hearings were explosive, with the prosecutor alleging at one point Knoller and Noel practiced bestiality with their dogs. Evidence relating to that claim was barred from the trial by the judge, along with most evidence about the Aryan Brotherhood.

The trial itself was grim: the jurors were shown 77 bloody photos of Whipple's wounds, many of them blown up to wall size on a movie screen. The prosecutors said the college lacrosse coach had been bitten everywhere except the top of her head and the soles of her feet.

Experts said the 54-kilogram Bane delivered the fatal wounds and prosecutors said Hera tore at Whipple's clothing during the attack. Both dogs were later destroyed.

Knoller testified for three days, crying, shouting and insisting she never suspected her beloved dogs could be killers.

"I saw a pet who had been loving, docile, friendly, good toward people, turn into a crazed, wild animal," she sobbed, referring to Bane.

Her lawyer, Nedra Ruiz, contributed to the courtroom drama by crawling on the floor, kicking the jury box and crying during her opening statement.

In closing arguments, she accused prosecutors of trying to "curry favour with the homosexual and gay folks."

Noel did not testify and contended through his lawyer he had no warning the dogs would kill. But his letters to the couple's adopted son were read to the jury. Two weeks before the attack, Noel wrote about an incident in which Whipple was frightened by the dogs as she entered the building's elevator.

In the letter, Noel referred to Whipple as a "timorous little mousy blond."

After the attack, he wrote another letter bemoaning the death of Bane and promising to fight for the life of Hera.

"Neighbours be damned," he wrote.

"If they don't like living in the building with her, they can move."

Murder appears to have been proven only twice before in recent U.S. dog mauling cases.

Sabine Davidson of Milford, Kan., was convicted of second-degree murder in 1997 after her three Rottweilers killed an 11-year-old boy. She was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Jeffrey Mann of Cleveland was sentenced to 15 years to life in 1993 after he knocked his wife unconscious and ordered his pit bull to attack her.

Two years ago, James Chiavetta of San Bernardino County was charged with second-degree murder but convicted instead of involuntary manslaughter after his pit bull mix killed a 10-year-old boy. He had left the dog unleashed in the yard with an open gate while he napped.

He was sentenced to four years in prison.

In San Francisco after the verdict, all was quiet in front of Whipple's apartment house - no flowers, no cards, just a handwritten note taped near the front entrance.

"Justice! Diane & Sharon. We are with you," it read.

The Canadian Press, 2002

sammiec June 8th, 2004 10:30 AM

I heard of this story when it all happened, very sick individuals... when the story was reported the dogs were, of course pitbulls.... but it's nice to see, 2 years after the fact that they finally got their story straight....

I think they showed this on court tv or something....

LavenderRott June 8th, 2004 10:48 AM

Not sure if you noticed but the article was posted on the forum 2 years ago.

I never heard that these dogs were any other breed. If I remember correctly, the first time I heard the story on the news it said that the dogs were Presa's.

I didn't know anything about the breed then, and I only know slightly more now. I do know that these are not dogs to be taken lightly and I, personally, would never own one.

mona_b June 8th, 2004 10:59 AM

Sandi,I too remember this story.And yes they did mention that they were Presa's.If I recal,they also talked about it on one of the talk shows not long after it happened..I think it was Montel.

These were killer dogs.They were trained for this.I'm talking about these 2 dogs.

sammiec June 8th, 2004 11:17 AM

Sorry, I might of had the story' mixed up... I do remember some facts about that story, not that one I guess...

The owner apparently had thrown herslef on the dogs trying to remove them from the lady and she was screaming for help, but on lookers were affraid to step in... that's tis story right? LOL

wAggie June 9th, 2004 01:02 AM

ya, this case was quite popular... if I'm not mistaken, the husband got some time, the woman got off, and her dogs had to be put down...

mona_b June 9th, 2004 11:31 AM

No,that's not the story....Or if it is it was not the facts.

The victim was opening her door to her apt.The dogs got out and mauled her to death.The owner didn't jump on the dogs to save the woman. :mad:

wAggie June 10th, 2004 12:28 AM

ok, I remember that part, but didn't they arrest her and put down the two dogs??

she was charged, and so was her husband! I'm SURE I remember that...

sammiec June 10th, 2004 09:49 AM

Yeah, that's what I thought.. the one lady was entering her apartment as the lady with the dogs was leaving hers.... the dogs attacked the yong lady as she tried to unlock her door.
The owner said that she tried to get her dogs off of the victim even throwing herself on them... The man got a lesser charge then his wife - he got like 2 yrs and she got manslaughter and a few more years...he left her before it went to trial.

here's the story...

sammiec June 10th, 2004 03:01 PM


just found this, both owners have been released from prison...

Luba June 10th, 2004 03:34 PM

So sad, when you try to do the moral thing that you end up getting the poopie end of the stick.

I wasn't aware this was so old the link says : Thursday, June 10, 2004
I hope they didnt get their dogs back.

sammiec June 10th, 2004 03:40 PM

The dogs were put down immediately after the attack.

SOUTHERNPHILLY June 30th, 2004 03:48 AM

[QUOTE=LavenderRott]Not sure if you noticed but the article was posted on the forum 2 years ago.

I never heard that these dogs were any other breed. If I remember correctly, the first time I heard the story on the news it said that the dogs were Presa's.

I didn't know anything about the breed then, and I only know slightly more now. I do know that these are not dogs to be taken lightly and I, personally, would never own one.[/QUOTE]

sammiec June 30th, 2004 07:52 AM


NOt sure what you mean by that....

chico2 June 30th, 2004 08:23 AM

Whatever she means I don't know,but Presa Canarios are NOT Pitts!

sammiec June 30th, 2004 10:59 AM

That's what I thought. Obviously this person has no clue about the Pit Bull breed and is simply regergitating information provided by the media, and not personal experience with these loving and wonderful dogs. :rolleyes:

hefalump October 7th, 2005 04:56 AM

an answertoyour question
[QUOTE=SOUTHERNPHILLY][B]YOU HAVE AN EXACT BREED. JUST A DIFFERENT NAME. KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN!!![/B][/QUOTE] Both dogs were Presa canario for sure. I also did some research on this particular dog I found out that they originate from the cannary islands,they are a cross between a farm dog and a bull mastiff. It also says that these dogs were bred for the sole purpose of fighting and or guardian dogs.They look very vicious but I'm sure as anyone knows (especially if you own a dog known for i'ts breed) if these dogs are brought up with love & compasion they can turn out to be the best dog you ever owned. I strongly believe that those two people wanted those dogs to be fighters,to be mean and they wanted people to be afraid of them and look where it got them. I feel so bad for what happened to that poor woman it wasnt her fault,but it wasn't the allthe dogs fault either. Those people knew what they had and if they really cared about those dogs why did they have them cooped up in a tiny apt all day.

tinkertwist June 1st, 2010 05:31 PM

I actually own a presa x bull mastiff and i agree that they are a mastiff breed not a terrior breed like the pitt bull and have no relation to them whatsoever. I also want to say that my dog does everything with us and is non agressive, very loving to people, doesn't even lift her head off the couch when people come to the door. She behaves well at the dog park, and if an agressive dog attacks her she will lay on the ground until somebody removes their dog. Me and my hubby are not dog trainers, we treat her well and in turn she listens, obeys and is very submissive and loving. I guarenty if it were my dog in the hallway with that lady she would probably just begged for a belly scratch. Any dog due to poor care can turn agressive. I had a doby snap and try to rip my throat out but i do not hold the breed itself accoutable for the action of one.:lightbulb:

14+kitties June 1st, 2010 06:49 PM

This thread is from 2002. Last comment was five years ago.
It's great you have such a well trained dog. :thumbs up It would also be great if you went to the introduce yourself section and shared your story and your pups pictures there. :thumbs up

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