Wednesday, February 20, 2002
Prosecutor Opens Case in Dog Mauling by Showing Jury Graphic Photos
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
A tearful defense attorney told jurors yesterday that her client, who is charged in the dog mauling death of her neighbor, risked her life to save the woman.
Marjorie Knoller flung herself on Diane Whipple when she was attacked by a 100-pound plus presa canario owned by Knoller and her husband, Robert Noel, the lawyer said.
“Marjorie was covered in blood,” attorney Nedra Ruiz said in opening statements. “No one is sorrier that Marjorie Knoller could not save Ms. Whipple than Marjorie Knoller, who risked her life.”
Knoller, 46, is charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and having a mischievous animal that killed a human being. Her 60-year-old husband faces the latter two charges.
Knoller was with the dogs, Bane and Hera, at the time of the Jan. 26, 2001, attack on Whipple, 33, outside her San Francisco apartment. The trial was moved to Los Angeles because of extensive publicity in San Francisco.
San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Jim Hammer told jurors they must decide whether Knoller and Noel were warned how dangerous their dogs were and whether they did anything to protect others from them.
Hammer gave jurors a dramatic description of the scene in the hallway of Whipple’s apartment building as she tried to enter her home with groceries, only to be knocked down by Bane.
Hammer also told jurors that Whipple was not the first victim of the dogs, but the last in line of almost 30 incidents involving the aggressive behavior of the two 120-plus-pound presa canario dogs, named Hera and Bane.
Despite all previous warnings, the couple did nothing to stop the dogs’ aggressiveness, Hammer said.
“They disregarded all those warnings and Ms. Whipple is dead as a result of that,” Hammer said.
Hammer presented his brief descriptions of the many incidents involving the dogs, including times when the dogs lunged at people and hurt other animals.
One incident resulted in Noel nearly losing a finger after getting bitten by one of his dogs who was involved in a dog fight that Noel interceded, Hammer said.
Another incident involved Whipple getting bitten on her hand by one of the dogs about six weeks before the attack, Hammer claimed.
Sharon Smith, Whipple’s life partner who is currently suing Knoller and Noel, left the courtroom when the details of Whipple’s autopsy were presented.
Nedra Ruiz, Knoller’s attorney, said in her opening statement that Knoller did all she could to protect Whipple and that the 30 or so incidents the prosecution would use to show the couple had been warned about the dogs were not accurate.
In an interview on Good Morning America, taped shortly after the incident and shown in court, Knoller said she was on top of Whipple trying to protect her from the dogs, which Knoller said, were trying to defend her.
Ruiz lay on the floor in the courtroom, re-enacting Knoller’s version of the incident and eventually blamed Whipple’s death on the incompetence of the San Francisco police and the paramedics.
Ruiz also told the court that Knoller would testify.
Ruiz said she would present witnesses to show the dogs were not violent and that the couple only took the dogs into their apartment to provide “loving care.”
“Marjorie and Robert never condoned aggressive behaviour by the dogs,’ Ruiz said.
She faces 15 years to life if convicted on the second degree murder charge, and Noel faces several years if convicted on the lesser charges.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company