SAN FRANCISCO — About 200 friends and supporters of Diane Whipple held a candlelight in a rain-soaked park Saturday to show they hadn’t forgotten the popular woman mauled to death by dogs at her doorstep last year.
“What really happened is a wonderful, capable, loving memorable woman lost her life under circumstances that were eminently and completely avoidable,” said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
Whipple, 33, was attacked in a hallway Jan. 26, 2001, as she carried groceries to her luxury apartment in the Pacific Heights neighborhood.
Kendell’s organization and several other groups, including Friends of Diane, organized the vigil.
Several members of Whipple’s St. Mary’s lacrosse team huddled together on the park grass, hugging and sharing memories of their former coach. Whipple’s partner, Sharon Smith, remembered her as a competitive athlete and a teacher in life.
“In the seven years I spent my life with Diane Alexis, she was most proud of her athletic accomplishments,” Smith said, referring to Whipple by her middle name.
Whipple enjoyed poetry, long hikes, the ocean and her friends, Smith said.
“She believed in living your life to the fullest,” Smith said.
The two large Presa Canarios that attacked Whipple weighed more than 100 pounds each and belonged to her neighbors Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel.
Knoller is charged with second-degree murder. Both Knoller and Noel are also charged with involuntary manslaughter and keeping vicious dogs. The murder charge carries up to 15 years in prison, the manslaughter charges up to four.
The criminal trial starts in March in Los Angeles, a change of venue because of the national media attention the case has received.
Knoller, who was walking the dogs when the attack happened, said she was dragged down the hall by one of the animals. Whipple’s larynx was crushed and her neck ripped open.
In response to the dog attack last year, the city tightened enforcement of its leash laws. Citizens expressed outrage at large dogs being in public places.
Knoller and Noel have also been outspoken in the past, calling the dogs’ behavior out of character. The media has centered on several bizarre twists in the case, including the couple’s friendship with a prison inmate who owned the dogs and possible sexual evidence in the case.
Smith has filed a separate wrongful death suit against Knoller and Noel.
Smith won a court ruling to allow same-sex couples to file wrongful death suits. Courts had previously considered such suits unconstitutional. The civil suit is in the discovery process.