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Witnesses in Dog Mauling Case Tell of Other Attacks

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The two dogs that fatally mauled a San Francisco woman regularly frightened others who came across them, attacking or charging people and other animals, according to testimony Monday.

Rhea Wertman-Tallent, who works near the apartment building where Diane Whipple was killed, told jurors that the two dogs growled and lunged at another dog on the street two days before the fatal attack. They were on their hind legs, teeth showing, trying to break free from their leashes, she testified.

“I never saw animals so crazed before,” Wertman-Tallent testified in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

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Prosecutors are trying to prove that defendants Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel, who were Whipple’s neighbors, knew their Presa Canario dogs were dangerous. Before the attack on Whipple on Jan. 26, 2001, the dogs, Bane and Hera, had been aggressive with others nearly 30 times, prosecutors said.

Defense attorneys have argued that their clients were responsible dog owners who kept their pets under control.

‘The Dogs Were Making Horrible Sounds’

During cross-examination, they noted that no one was injured in the incidents that witnesses described Monday except for one dog, which suffered a minor injury.

Knoller, 46, and her husband, Noel, 60, are charged with involuntary manslaughter and keeping a mischievous dog in connection with Whipple’s death. Knoller also faces a charge of second-degree murder.

Several prosecution witnesses said the defendants had been urged to put muzzles or choke collars on the dogs.

Wertman-Tallent testified that after Whipple’s death, she wrote a note to herself about her own encounter: “The dogs were making horrible sounds, like they wanted to kill something, now.”

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Skip Cooley, who lived next door to Knoller and Noel, told jurors that he opened the elevator door on the sixth floor one morning in December and saw Noel and both dogs.

“One of the dogs absolutely sprung on me,” he testified, saying that it was in “attack mode.”

Cooley said he slammed the door and waited while Noel maneuvered the dogs, which weighed more than 100 pounds each, into the defendants’ apartment.

Cooley added that he and his wife had complained to the apartment manager several months earlier that the dogs were noisy and a menace.

Noel replied with a letter to Cooley, explaining that he was training Hera to respond to suspicious sounds, Cooley said.

Another sixth-floor neighbor, Henry Putek, testified that one of the dogs bounded out of the defendants’ apartment in January without a leash and charged toward him.

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“He was clawing and moving very quickly toward me,” Putek said. “I was scared at that moment, so I froze in place.”

Defendant Talked of Getting a Third Dog

Professional dog walker Abraham Taylor told jurors that Hera broke free from her leash in January 2001 and tried to bite the Belgian shepherd he was walking. Taylor grabbed Hera and forced her to the ground, he said.

Taylor also recounted a conversation the next day, during which Noel told him he was considering getting another dog.

Taylor testified that Noel said, “It’s tough enough having two. Can you imagine owning three?”

Also on Monday, Mario Montepeque, who trains dogs as a hobby, testified that Noel told him he did not want to spay or neuter his dogs because he planned to breed them.

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