S A N F R A N C I S C O, Feb. 2, 2001 -- The owner of a dog that killed a woman in a vicious attack outside her apartment last week today lashed out at the victim, trying to place blame for the mauling on her.
Attorney Robert Noel told reporters outside the Pelican Bay State Prison that the victim, St. Mary's College of California lacrosse coach Diane Whipple, did not go back into her apartment when she saw the 120-pound presa Canario dog straining to get at her. He said instead of going to safety, Whipple moved toward the dog, which only provoked the beast further.
But Noel, in his statements today and in an 18-page letter sent to the San Francisco District Attorney, did not stop at blaming Whipple for her alleged actions during the attack. He said the dog could have been set off by pheromone-based cosmetics or perhaps by steroids that he said Whipple, "as a serious athlete," may have been using.
The fatal attack occurred on Jan. 26, in the hallway of the apartment building that was home to both Whipple and to Noel and his wife, Marjorie Knoller. The couple, both attorneys, acquired the dog involved in the attack, Bane, and a female of the same breed, Hera, from a woman who was raising them for two prison inmates — clients of Noel and Knoller.
According to Noel's account, even after Knoller, who was trying to restrain the dog, realized she couldn't and threw her body between Bane and Whipple, the lacrosse coach swung her arm and hit her would-be defender in the face and for some reason again moved toward the dog rather than back into her apartment.
Noel said his wife suffered injuries during the incident that prove she tried to defend Whipple from the dog. He said District Attorney Terence Hallinan should have looked at her injuries and "her bloody clothes … before he goes shooting off his mouth."
The version Noel gave reporters today echoed his description of the incident in his letter to prosecutors, but seemed to contradict the account given by his wife to police.
In her statement after the attack, Knoller said Whipple repeatedly tried to move back toward her apartment, but every time she moved away, the dog renewed his attack.
Noel denied again that the dog showed any sign of being vicious before the attack and refuted the claim of the woman who raised the dogs that she warned the couple about the two animals.
Bane was put down after the attack. Hera is being held by animal control officers, awaiting a hearing on her fate.
Disputed History of Violence
But an investigator told the San Francisco Chronicle that other neighbors said the dogs had attacked other people and pets in the building before the fatal attack. Lt. Henry Hunter told the Chronicle that letters from the prisoners also make it clear that Noel and Knoller knew the dogs were violent.
"The prisoners' correspondence talks about the dogs, they are talking about incidents involving the attorneys, these people love to brag — a lot of the correspondence talks about the dogs as vicious," Hunter told the paper. "The attorneys had to know these animals were vicious. We're not talking Lassie here."
In his letter, Noel described in detail his and Knoller's lives with the dog, recounting many examples of how the dogs interacted with other people and other dogs.
Neither of the dogs showed any aggression, according to the letter, until an incident in September when a woman allowed her "Belgian Malinois or a Shepard mix" to attack the couple and their two dogs. He said this other dog seemed to have been trained to attack, and because the woman did not attempt to restrain it in any way "coupled with other information suggested to us that the attack may have been staged by CDC [California Department of Corrections] personnel."
After that, "while Bane had become more vigilant as to intact males, neither he nor Hera showed any signs of aggression towards people," the letter said.
More than 600 people gathered Thursday night at a memorial Mass to remember the 33-year-old Whipple.
The crowd filled the aisles of the chapel at Saint Mary's College, spilling out into a separate building. Family, friends, students and faculty members all came to remember Whipple's life.
District Attorney Hallinan has said that before the investigation is over there could be criminal charges in the case, if it is true that the woman who raised the dogs warned the attorneys that the animals were vicious. He said the case could be considered a homicide before the investigation is concluded.
"The lawyers were told that I felt they should have been put down before they left my property, because they showed aggression just through the fence," Janet Coumbs told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America on Thursday.
She said she was persuaded to raise the dogs by two prison inmates she met after a friend suggested she visit people in jails to offer them comfort.
Trouble From the Start
The lawyers represented the two inmates, both of whom are members of the Aryan Brotherhood white supremacist group. The two convicts wanted to breed the powerful dogs for use in dog fights and to be sold as guard dogs to methamphetamine labs, and planned to run the operation from prison, officials said.
Noel, 58, and Knoller, 45, recently adopted one of the convicts involved in the case, Paul "Cornfed" Schneider, 38.
Coumbs said she was alerted right away that the dogs might be a problem. When she went to pick the puppies up at the airport after she agreed to take them, a worker warned her.
"The guy at the airport told me, he goes, 'Lady, you got Cujo in a cage there,'" she said.
She said she finally gave up on the dogs when they started killing her chickens, sheep and a cat, and Noel and Knoller took them. Coumbs said she made it clear to the two that the dogs were dangerous.
In his letter to the district attorney, however, Noel said that Coumbs described both Bane and Hera in loving terms, and only said that a third presa Canario — a female named Fury — showed signs of aggression. According to Noel, Coumbs said it was that dog that attacked her farm animals and cat.
The letter went on to assert that Whipple wouldn't have been attacked if she had stayed in her apartment when she saw that Knoller and the dogs were in the hall outside her door.
In it he said Whipple just stared at the dog and Knoller instead of going into her apartment, even though her door was open and she could see her neighbor was fighting to restrain Bane, who was leashed.
Making a Family
When the dog lunged, Knoller prevented him from reaching Whipple by jumping on her herself, pushing them both into Whipple's apartment, the letter said. When Knoller tried to pull the dog out of the apartment, though, Whipple started to crawl into the hallway, according to the letter.
Knoller managed to keep herself between the dog and the lacrosse coach until Whipple hit her in the face, and then Bane lunged for her throat and killed her, the letter said.
He also charged that police and paramedics did not respond fast enough.
"During the next 5 to 7 minutes no one from the P.D. or fire department worked on Ms. Whipple, they simply let her lie where she was," Noel wrote.
He accused the district attorney's office of treating him and his wife unfairly by disclosing confidential information to the media, particularly in regard to his adoption of Schneider, a 38-year-old convicted of aggravated assault and attempted murder.
Noel said he and his wife decided to adopt Schneider because of a relationship that developed "as a result of working on a number of matters."
"In contrast to the largely corrupt administration of the Department of Corrections and a goodly number of correctional staff, though there are a goodly number of hardworking and honest correctional officers, Mr. Schneider proved to be — notwithstanding his commitment offense — a man of honor, integrity and intelligence," the letter said. "The three of us decided to establish a family unit."