Mauling prosecutor calls dogs ‘time bombs’

By Linda Deutsch The Associated Press
Tuesday March 19, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Against a backdrop of bloody autopsy pictures, a prosecutor implored jurors Monday to convict two San Francisco dog owners in the mauling death of a neighbor, calling the animals “time bombs.” 

“There were earlier explosions but this time they killed a woman,” Assistant District Attorney Jim Hammer told the jury, which was expected to hear defense arguments later in the day and begin deliberations on Tuesday. 

Holding up a cast of the gaping teeth of the dog that killed Diane Whipple, the prosecutor pointed to the defendants and said, “Do not let them get away with their lies and don’t let Marjorie Knoller get away with murder.” 

Knoller, an attorney, is charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and owning a mischievous dog that killed a person. She could receive 15 years in prison if convicted. Her husband, Robert Noel, also an attorney, is charged with the latter two crimes and faces up to four years if convicted. 

Hammer recounted a television interview in which Knoller was asked if she took responsibility for Whipple’s death. 

“And cold as ice she said, ’No, she should have closed her door. That’s what I would have done,”’ Hammer said. 

Hammer ridiculed Knoller’s testimony in which she painted herself as a hero who tried to save the life of Whipple, 33, who was mauled as she brought groceries to her San Francisco apartment on Jan. 26, 2001. 

Knoller claimed she threw her body on top of Whipple’s to protect her from the raging dog, Bane, one of two massive presa canario dogs the couple kept. 

But it was too late by then, Hammer argued, asserting that Knoller and Noel should have already been aware that their dogs could become killers at any moment. 

He showed ajurors charts recounting the testimony of more than 30 witnesses who said that Bane and the other dog, Hera, lunged at them, barked and growled, in one case bit a man, and terrorized people in their building and outside. 

“By Jan. 26 it was not a question of whether someone was going to be mauled,” Hammer said. ”... The only question was when and who and where. That is the issue in this case: What did they know before Jan. 26? They knew they couldn’t control the dogs and they knew what the dogs could do.” 

Hammer pointed to a letter in which Knoller said that if Bane were to get away from her she could not stop him, and comments by Noel that his wife alone could not control the dogs. 

Nevertheless, he said, Noel left their apartment that morning, leaving his wife alone to take care of Bane and Hera. 

“That was reckless and flagrant disregard because they didn’t give a damn about people,” the prosecutor said. 

Holding up the mold of Bane’s teeth, he said, “With the size of these teeth and what these teeth have already done ... that is 100 percent notice of the danger of these dogs and it didn’t mean a damn thing to them.” 

The prosecutor showed a picture of Noel’s nearly severed finger, taken after he was bitten by Bane while trying to break up a dog fight. He also showed photos of Knoller’s cut hands after Whipple’s death. The defendant claimed the injuries were the result of trying to save Whipple. 

“My mother gets worse wounds gardening,” the prosecutor said. “Compare those to what happened to Diane Whipple.” 

With that he projected on a huge screen the gruesome, bloody photos of Whipple’s mangled neck, bitten arms and legs and crushed larynx. 

Hammer also said it did not matter that Noel was not present during the fatal attack because he set events in motion by his earlier actions. 

He said the entire tragedy began when Knoller and Noel became involved with two Pelican Bay State Prison inmates who had a plan to raise guard dogs for the benefit of the Aryan Brotherhood, a violent prison gang. 

“These prisoners didn’t choose poodles,” he said. “They didn’t chose lap dogs. They wanted tough dogs. Presa canarios were meaner than pit bulls.” 

Knowing all of that, he said, Knoller and Noel agreed to raise the dogs.