Lawyer convicted in dog attack remained unapologetic

By Kim Curtis, The Associated Press
Tuesday July 16, 2002

Dog owner said victim
could have gotten away


SAN FRANCISCO — It seemed like everyone in the courtroom wanted to hear her apologize. 

The judge, prosecutors, family and friends of Diane Whipple, and a crowd of reporters who have followed the sensational dog mauling case for more than a year were waiting for Marjorie Knoller to express some regret Monday before she was sentenced for involuntary manslaughter. 

Prosecutor James Hammer nearly lost control, his voice strained with emotion, as he practically begged her to take responsibility and give Whipple’s family “some peace.” 

“Is there anybody else at all in the courtroom ... counsel, family members, parties, who wish to address anybody else,” asked Judge James Warren, watching and waiting expectantly. 

Seconds, then minutes ticked by. Knoller, a 47-year-old attorney with dark circles under her eyes and limp brown hair, jotted down notes, leaned over and whispered to her lawyer, but kept her silence. 

She didn’t even sign the pre-sentencing statement she submitted, the judge noted, possibly to avoid incriminating herself in a wrongful suit filed by Sharon Smith, Whipple’s partner. 

Citing her failure to apologize and the fact that she repeatedly perjured herself, Warren sentenced her to four years in the January 2001 death of 33-year-old Whipple, a college lacrosse coach who was ripped to pieces by two presa canario fighting dogs in Knoller’s presence. 

Her husband Robert Noel, 61, was sentenced to four years in prison on the same charges, involuntary manslaughter and keeping a mischievous animal that kills a person. With credit for good conduct and time served, the lawyer couple will spend about 14 months in state prison. 

“A life sentence won’t bring back Diane Whipple. Four years won’t bring her back,” Hammer said in court, his voice straining. 

“The only thing that would bring some peace, I think, to everyone who knew Diane is if this woman here, this lawyer ... who mocked Diane Whipple and blamed her for her own death, would stand up as a human being and say, ’I’m sorry. I wish I hadn’t done these things. I’m responsible and I’m ready to pay the price.” 

A Los Angeles jury in March also convicted Knoller of second-degree murder for her role in Whipple’s death. But Warren tossed out the murder conviction, saying that Knoller had no way of knowing the dogs would kill someone that day. 

His decision drew cries of injustice from Smith and prosecutors, who appealed. District Attorney Terence Hallinan said it should take about a year for the appeal to work its way through the system. 

The dogs, Bane and Hera, each outweighed the 110-pound victim. Knoller testified that she tried to fling herself between the animals and her neighbor to no avail — one of many statements the judge didn’t believe. 

Knoller denied responsibility and said Whipple could have saved herself simply by going inside her apartment. Noel suggested Whipple may have attracted the dogs’ attention with her perfume or even steroids. 

“She has been an attorney from day one,” Smith said Monday outside court. “She has not acted like a human ... and she’ll be an attorney to the end. She’s not going to say she’s sorry because she doesn’t want to admit, and I think she probably doesn’t even believe, that she’s responsible for this.” 

Hallinan said Monday it’s “probably true” that he will be unable to retry Knoller for murder because of laws against double jeopardy or trying a person twice for the same crime. He’s hoping the appeals court will reinstate Knoller’s murder conviction. 

The case stunned this city and made legal history when Smith won the same right as a spouse to sue for damages. The state Legislature enacted a law to allow wrongful-death lawsuits by gay partners. 

And, for now, a certain kind of justice has been served, prosecutors said. 

“It’s not everything we wanted,” Hammer said of Knoller’s sentence. “But they’ve now received some punishment.” 

Even Smith sounded resigned. 

“Would it have made a difference in the beginning for her to be sorry? Yeah, absolutely,” she said. “Today, I wouldn’t have believed it.”