High court orders new proceedings
in fatal dog-mauling case
By Julia Cheever
June 1, 2007
The California Supreme Court yesterday ordered a new trial court
hearing on whether a San Francisco woman whose dogs fatally mauled
a neighbor six years ago can be convicted of second-degree murder.
The high court said unanimously that San Francisco Superior Court
Judge James Warren used the wrong standard when he set aside a
second-degree murder conviction for Marjorie Knoller and granted
her a new trial on that charge.
Knoller, 51, who now lives in Florida, has already been released
on parole from a four-year sentence for the lesser crime of involuntary
manslaughter in the death of lacrosse coach Diane Whipple on Jan.
But if the jury's original verdict of second-degree murder is
reinstated, she could be returned to prison for 12 or more additional
Whipple, 33, was attacked and killed by two powerful Presa Canario
guard dogs owned by Knoller and her husband and law partner, Robert
Noel, in the hallway of their San Francisco apartment building.
Trial evidence showed that Whipple suffered 77 wounds from the
130- and 150-pound dogs and lost one-third of her blood. Before
the fatal mauling, there were about 30 incidents of the dogs being
out of control or threatening humans and other dogs, the court
The attack occurred when Knoller was returning to her apartment
after taking one of the dogs, Bane, for a walk on the roof of
the Pacific Heights building. After the mauling began, the second
dog, Hera, joined Bane in the hallway.
Deputy California Attorney General Amy Haddix, who represented
prosecutors in the appeal, said, "We are gratified and pleased
that the new-trial ruling can be relitigated."
Haddix said the new proceedings will take some time because Warren,
the original trial judge, has retired and a new judge will have
to review the records of the case.
Haddix said, "We feel very strongly that she should be punished
to the full extent of the law and we are ready to see it through."
Knoller's attorney, Dennis Riordan, said Knoller believes the
yet-to-be-assigned Superior Court judge will again find that "the
evidence in her case is clearly insufficient to support a second
degree murder conviction."
The high court, in a ruling issued at its San Francisco headquarters,
said Warren used too high a standard when he said Knoller couldn't
be convicted of second-degree murder unless she was found to have
believed her actions would result "in a high probability
Instead, the court said, the correct standard is whether a defendant
had "a conscious disregard for human life."
The panel also said the state Court of Appeal in San Francisco
set too low a standard when it all but reinstated Knoller's second-degree
murder conviction in a ruling two years ago.
The appeals court said that awareness of a danger of great bodily
harm, as opposed to awareness of a risk of death, could be a basis
for a second-degree murder conviction.
But the state Supreme Court said the lower court ruling was contrary
to court precedents establishing the standard for second-degree
murder as conscious disregard for human life.
Justice Joyce Kennard wrote that "the Court of the Appeal
set the bar too low" and "the trial court set the bar
Riordan said the panel's rejection of the Court of Appeal standard
"vindicates the rule of law in California."
The attorney said, "The high court applied to Ms. Knoller's
case those legal principles which govern every murder case in
California, whether the defendant be viewed as a pillar of the
community or a social pariah."
Noel, 65, who was not present during the attack, was convicted
of involuntary manslaughter in the Superior Court trial in 2002
and sentenced to four years in prison.
Both Noel and Knoller were released on parole after serving nearly
three years of the four year sentences, with credit for good behavior
while in prison.
Haddix said the penalty for second-degree murder is 15 years
to life in prison. She said Knoller would get credit for the time
already served if her second-degree murder conviction is reinstated.
The new trial judge in the case will determine whether the evidence
and jury instructions in the 2002 trial justified Knoller's original
second-degree murder conviction under the standard announced by
the court. That judge's ruling could be appealed, which could
mean that it may be months or years before Knoller's case is resolved.
Knoller and Noel were originally caring for the dogs for Pelican
Bay State Prison inmate Paul "Cornfed" Schneider, but
in early 2001 registered themselves as owners.
Schneider, a member of the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood
prison gang, was planning a guard dog business to be called "Dog-O-War."
The two attorneys met Schneider, who was serving a life term,
at the state prison in 1999 when they were representing a prison
guard. They completed adopting him as their son three days after
In 2003, Schneider pleaded guilty in U.S. district court in San
Francisco to a federal racketeering charge related to a murder
and other crimes committed outside the prison by Aryan Brotherhood
associates. He was sentenced to another life term and transferred
to a federal prison.
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