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American lawyers on trial following fatal dog attack

TWO lawyers from San Francisco went on trial last week for the killing of a neighbour by dogs bred by neo-Nazis. If found guilty, Majorie Knoller, 46, and Robert Noel, 60, will be the first people to be convicted in California for a homicide committed by a dog. The trial was transferred to Los Angeles from San Francisco, where the attack took place, to blunt the effects of publicity surrounding the case in the city, where the victim was a well-known gay figure.

On January 26 2001, Knoller and Noel were taking care of ‘Bane’ and ‘Hera’, two 120-pound Presa Canario dogs belonging to Paul “Cornfeld” Schneider, 39, who is serving a life sentence for attempted murder, when the dogs mauled to death Diane Whipple, 33, a lacrosse coach.
Ms Whipple lived on the same floor as the defendants and was attacked on returning home from a shopping trip.

In her opening statement, Knoller’s Defence Attorney Nedra Ruiz made the outrageous suggestion that the fault for Whipple’s death lay in part with the first two police officers that arrived that afternoon. As Whipple lay bleeding to death and choking for air, she said, the officers did nothing but tell Knoller not to move.

Far from abandoning Whipple, she said, Knoller tried to help her by banging on a neighbour’s door during the attack and then by using her fingers to apply pressure to the wound before police stopped her.

She described Knoller and Noel as models of “responsible dog ownership” who “devoted themselves” to their charges, including teaching them to heed voice commands.
A neighbour of Knoller and Noel, Kelly Harris, said she was walking her dogs in San Francisco’s Presidio area in July 2000 when they encountered Marjorie Knoller with a very large dog she identified as Hera, one of the two dogs that killed Diane Whipple.


Asked by Assistant District Attorney Jim Hammer to describe the incident, Harris said the two Labradors she was walking began to circle the larger dog. “The female defendant said, ‘Please leash your dogs. You don’t know how serious this is. This dog has been abused. He’ll kill your dogs.”’

Harris added, “She was very insistent and she sounded afraid.”

Seeking to prove that the animals’ owners had plenty of warning the animals were dangerous before the deadly attack, prosecutors called several witnesses who testified that the two Presa Canario dogs snarled, barked or acted threatening on different occasions.

Rhea Wertman-Tallent testified that two days before Whipple’s death, the dogs became agitated by another dog across a street in their neighbourhood. “The dogs were reared up on their hind legs. Their teeth were out and they were lunging. I was trying to hurry to get away,” she said.

Abraham Taylor said one of the dogs broke loose during another encounter and charged at him and the dog he was walking. He said he was able to force the charging dog to the ground.

Skip Cooley, who lived next door to the defendants, testified that one dog once lunged at him as he got out of a lift.

He also said the dogs were normally docile toward him, but would became “attentive” toward his five-foot-tall wife who weighed less than the 100-pound animals.

The trial continues.