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Guilty verdict in mauling case

A LOS Angeles jury found Marjorie Knoller guilty of second-degree murder and found both her and her husband, Robert Noel, guilty of involuntary manslaughter and guilty of owning a ‘mischievous’ dog in the death of a neighbour who was fatally mauled by their dogs.

Knoller faces 15 years to life in prison, and Noel faces up to four years.

Murder charges are rare in dog mauling cases, but prosecutors said the husband-and-wife lawyers knew their two powerful Presa Canarios were dangerous. The prosecution brought in numerous witnesses who said they had been terrorised by the dogs, Bane and Hera.

The defence contended that Knoller, 46, and Noel, 60, could not have known their animals would kill, and that Knoller tried to save their neighbour, Diane Whipple, by throwing herself between Whipple and the enraged Bane. They also disputed the witnesses’ accounts of being menaced by the dogs.


The jury reached decisions on four of the counts by last week, but the verdicts were sealed until the final charge was settled a day later.

Her 60 year old husband was charged only with the latter two counts since he wasn’t home at the time of the mauling in the hall outside the couple’s apartment.

The case caused a sensation in San Francisco when Lacrosse coach Whipple, 33, was killed by Bane on January 26th 2001 outside her door in exclusive the Pacific Heights area.

The case made legal history even before trial when Whipple’s lesbian partner, Sharon Smith, claimed the same right as a spouse to sue for damages. The Legislature enacted a law to allow such lawsuits by gay partners.

The second-degree murder charge against Knoller was unusual, since there had never been a conviction on that charge in a dog mauling case in California. In fact, murder appears to have been proven only twice in U.S. dog mauling cases.

Sabine Davidson of Milford, Kan., was convicted of second-degree murder in 1997 after her three Rottweilers killed an 11-year-old boy and was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Jeffrey Mann of Cleveland was sentenced to 15 years to life in 1993 after he knocked his wife unconscious and ordered his pit bull to attack her.

Two years ago, James Chiavetta of San Bernardino County was charged with second-degree murder but convicted instead of involuntary manslaughter after his pit bull cross killed a 10-year-old boy. He had left the dog unleashed in the yard with an open gate while he napped.
He was sentenced to four years in prison.