Prosecutors today portrayed the owners of the dogs who mauled a San Francisco woman to death last year as dog breeders who ignored their animals' deadly potential while the defense told jurors that one defendant risked her life trying to save the victim from her pets.
As the trial of Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel got under way today, defense attorney Nedra Ruiz said in her opening statement that Knoller did her best to prevent bloodshed when at least one of her two dogs lunged at a neighbor, Diane Whipple. Knoller, 46, and her husband Noel, 60, both lawyers, face charges of involuntary manslaughter and keeping a vicious dog. Knoller, who was with the dogs when they attacked Whipple, is also accused of second-degree murder.
The prosecution showed jurors gruesome pictures of Whipple's fatal dog bites and argued that Knoller ignored the dangers posed by her pets and let them kill her neighbor. The defense, however, argued that Knoller threw herself between the victim and her pets.
Ruiz tried to counter the prosecution's arguments by getting on the floor and re-enacting the attack from the defense's point of view.
"I know you've seen terrible pictures of Diane Whipple today," a tearful Ruiz said, her voice cracking. "But evidence will not show that Marjorie [Knoller] stood back and let that terrible thing happen to that beautiful girl."
"Marjorie Knoller tried to save that woman's life with her own body," Ruiz said. "She cut her fingers trying to beat back Bane's head as he was biting her and as he was ripping Ms. Whipple's clothing off."
Bane and Hera, the couple's two presa Canario dogs, each weighing more than 100 pounds, attacked the 33-year-old lacrosse coach outside of her doorway on Jan. 26, 2001. Ruiz showed photos of Knoller covered in blood after the deadly attack. She faces a minimum of 15 years to life in prison if she is convicted. Noel faces a maximum of four years in prison if he is found guilty.
The defense sharply disputed allegations that Knoller abandoned Whipple in the hallway after the attack.
"The evidence will show that she tried to stop Ms. Whipple's bleeding," Ruiz said, "and that the only reason she got up off of Ms. Whipple was to make sure that Bane didn't hurt her more."
Prosecutor: Victim Was Bitten From Head to Toe
In his opening statement to the jury, prosecutor James Hammer offered a detailed description of the massive injuries Whipple suffered. He said the woman was covered with bites from head to toe, and that the dogs had torn nearly every bit of clothing from her body. He also showed them pictures of Whipple's injuries.
"Her trachea was crushed and pierced by the dogs' teeth," he said. "Every piece of clothing was taken off of her by these dogs."
Hammer said he would show that the defendants knew the animals were dangerous but chose not to do anything about it. He said he would show at least 30 instances in which Bane and Hera attacked other people, including an incident in which one dog severed Noel's finger.
Hammer also insisted the defendants were deliberately breeding and training aggressive dogs.
"They even gave this operation, this kennel, a name," Hammer told the jury. "You know what they called it? 'Dog of War.'"
No Sex, Racist Evidence
The defendants were able to convince a judge that the trial should be moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles because of the publicity the mauling has generated, but failed to win separate trials.
The judge on the case, Superior Court Judge James Warren, agreed to exclude testimony about allegations of sexual conduct between Knoller and Noel and their dogs.
He will allow prosecutors to present evidence of the couple's relationship with members of the white supremacist prison gang Aryan Brotherhood, but he barred them from describing the group's racist leanings.
Noel and Knoller said they got the dogs from one of the gang members, a Pelican Bay State Prison inmate named Paul "Cornfed" Schneider, whom they had represented and legally adopted as their son.
Schneider and another member of the Aryan Brotherhood, who are both serving life without parole, were allegedly trying to operate a business from behind bars, raising attack dogs for illegal drug labs.