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Defense Rests in Dog Mauling Case

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The San Francisco lawyers on trial for the mauling death of Diane Whipple cared more about their two large Presa Canario dogs than they did about their neighbors, prosecutors suggested Wednesday.

Assistant Dist. Atty. James Hammer asked defendant Marjorie Knoller about her yearlong effort to keep one of the dogs alive even after it participated in the fatal attack and after neighbors told police they were fearful of the dogs.

Hammer also said Wednesday that he planned to show the jury a letter written by defendant Robert Noel, Knoller’s husband, in which he said he would fight to keep Hera alive, in spite of his neighbors. “Bane is dead. So is one of our neighbors,” the letter said.

Whipple, 33, had just returned from getting groceries Jan. 26, 2001, when the dogs charged her in the hallway of her San Francisco apartment building. Bane went for her throat and Hera tore at Whipple’s clothing. Whipple died that night. Bane was put to death.

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Knoller and Noel, who lived two doors from Whipple, are charged with involuntary manslaughter and keeping a mischievous dog. Knoller, who was present during the mauling, also faces a second-degree murder charge.

Prosecutors say the defendants ignored warnings that their dogs were dangerous. Hammer and Assistant Dist. Atty. Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom have presented nearly 30 witnesses who testified about frightening encounters they had with the dogs.

Defense attorneys, who rested their cases Wednesday, have countered with testimony that the dogs were friendly and well-behaved. Knoller testified that she was never warned about the dogs and that she couldn’t anticipate the mauling. Noel did not testify.

Knoller handed Bane over to animal control officials immediately after the attack because, she said, she didn’t want to have anything to do with him.

“I saw a pet--a dog that had been loving, docile, friendly, good with people--turn into a crazed wild animal,” she said through tears Wednesday. “I could never imagine this dog turning into what he turned into.”

Couple Fought to Prevent Dog’s Death

But Knoller and Noel embarked on a legal battle to prevent Hera from being put to death. Hera was destroyed last month after the California Supreme Court refused to grant the couple a reprieve.

Defense attorney Nedra Ruiz said Knoller did not believe Hera was vicious or dangerous. Ruiz said she was also trying to prevent Hera’s destruction so animal experts could examine her and testify in the criminal trial.

During continued cross-examination Wednesday, Hammer confronted Knoller with statements she made on the “Good Morning America” television program two weeks after Whipple’s death. Knoller said in the interview that the attack was not her fault and that Whipple had “ample opportunity” to go inside.

“She was in her apartment,” Knoller said. “She could have just slammed her door shut. I would have.”

Hammer contrasted Knoller’s composed appearance on TV with her sobbing testimony this week. “On ‘Good Morning America’ she didn’t shed a single tear and blamed Diane Whipple for her death,” Hammer said outside court.

Knoller denied shirking responsibility, and said she agreed to the televised interview because of the way the press was portraying her and Noel.

Hammer also continued challenging Knoller’s credibility and accusing her of changing her story about what happened the day of the attack. Knoller said that she can’t always remember every detail but that she never meant to mislead the jury.


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