Knoller & Noel convicted as murder-by-dog cases become trend
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2002:
LOS ANGELES–Convicted of second degree murder on March 21,
2002, for the dog mauling death of her former neighbor Diane
Whipple, San Francisco attorney Marjorie Knoller immediately
declared her intent to appeal. Knoller, 46, was also convicted of
manslaughter, along with her husband and fellow attorney Robert
Noel, 60. Both Knoller and Noel were additionally found guilty of
keeping a dangerous animal.
Sentencing was set for May 10. Knoller could draw 15 years
to life in prison; Noel could get four years.
Noel was not charged with second degree murder because he was
not present on January 26, 2001, when Knoller took two Presa
Canario dogs named Hera and Bane to relieve themselves on the roof of
Though each dog had repeatedly menaced and even bitten fellow
tenants, Knoller did not leash them. As Knoller brought the
120-pound dogs back from the roof, they raced out of her control to
attack Whipple, 33. Forensic evidence showed that Bane tore
Whipple’s throat so severely as to almost decapitate her, inflicting
other bites to almost every part of her body. Hera helped to tear
most of her clothing off. Bane was killed later that day by San
Francisco animal control staff. Hera was killed on January 30,
2002, after losing appeals all the way up to the Supreme Court of
Knoller claimed she threw herself on top of Whipple to try to
save her, but her account was not well supported by the physical
evidence, which included cuts and bites to her extremities and a
torn sweatshirt sleeve, but no injuries to the parts of her body
which would have shielded Whipple.
The trial was moved to Los Angeles in order to find an
impartial jury. Whipple was a popular athletic coach and triathlete
who had been a two-time All-American lacrosse player.
Knoller and Noel, who led police on a 200-mile high-speed
chase before they were taken into custody, acquired Bane and Hera
from reputed Aryan Brotherhood prison gang leader Paul “Cornfed”
Schneider, who had organized a scheme to breed and sell “Dogs o’
war,” as Presa Canarios are sometimes called, from behind bars. A
cross of English mastiffs and pit bull terriers, Presa Canarios were
originally bred as a fighting dog in the Canary Islands, but were
termed “Canary Island cattle dogs” after dogfighting was banned in
Nude photos of Knoller were found in Schneider’s cell, and
Knoller and Noel completed a legal adoption of Schneider several days
after Whipple was killed, reportedly to facilitate overnight visits.
San Francisco prosecutors Terrence Hallinan, James Hammer,
and Kimberly Guilfyle Newsom were prevented by trial judge James
Warren from presenting evidence that Knoller and Noel had sexual
relations with the dogs, which they contended might have contributed
to the fatal attack. Knoller asserted in pretrial statements that
Bane initially approached Whipple and sniffed her crotch.
Already serving life for previous convictions, Schneider in
September 2001 pleaded not guilty to 13 counts for further alleged
crimes including arranging the 1995 murder of Sonoma County Sheriff’s
Deputy Frank Trejo, trying to kill two other people, and conspiring
to kill three more, including Robert Scully, convicted of shooting
Trejo during a robbery allegedly set up by Schneider. Seven other
alleged members of the Aryan Brotherhood pleaded not guilty to
related charges of racketeering, conspiracy, robbery, attempted
murder, and drug possession.
Another alleged murder-by-dog case may grip public interest
soon, as Shanda McCracken, 32, and Wayne Hardy, 24, were on
March 20 indicted for second degree murder in Juneau County,
McCracken and Hardy on Valentine’s Day briefly left
McCracken’s 11-year-old daughter Melissa and neighbor Alicia Lynn
Clark, 10, alone in their Elroy, Wisconsin home with Hardy’s two
adult Rottweilers and four six-month-old puppies. The girls were
petting the pups when one dog apparently became jealous, inciting
the rest to join a 15-to-20-minute pack attack which reportedly
involved all six. Melissa McCracken tried unsuccessfully to pull them
away. Shanda McCracken could get 38 years in prison if convicted;
Hardy could get 72, having prior convictions for burglary and
possession of a firearm as a convicted felon.
The dogs previously nipped both girls, and killed a
neighborhood cat in December, Melissa McCracken told police.
Alicia Clark’s parents, James Clark and Tammy Shiflett,
filed a wrongful death suit against Juneau County for allegedly
ignoring repeated complaints from around the neighborhood that the
dogs were neglected and aggressive. After the fatal attack, Hardy
was cited for exceeding the local three-dog limit, failure to
license, failure to prove vaccination, and failure to remove
Each case had a European parallel.
In Rochefort, France, Eliane Marsaud, 38, and her son
Anthony Dutin, 21, on February 12 were convicted of manslaughter
for the June 2000 fatal mauling of Maria Berthelot, 86. Maraud and
Dutin allegedly went out to lunch, leaving five unlicensed pit bull
terriers in their yard. The dogs broke through a hole in the fence
to kill Berthelot. Marsaud and Dutin were jointly fined $60,000 and
sentenced to three months served while awaiting trial, plus 18
months on probation.
In Vest Torpa, Norway, eight days earlier, police charged
a 47-year-old woman with violation of animal control laws and hinted
that she might be charged later with negligent homicide, after
several of her 20 dogs killed Johannes Asheim, 7, as he walked home
from school. Neighbors of the woman including Asheim’s father had
complained to police about the dogs for as long as 10 years.
But while dog attacks resulting in human death grabbed the
attention of nations, less sensational cases that may be more likely
to set legal precedent went almost unreported.
In a case paralleling a wrongful death suit brought by
Whipple’s companion, Sharon Smith, against the landlord of the
building where the attack occurred for alleged negligence in failing
to evict dogs of known bad reputation, the Maine Supreme Court on
January 30 upheld a ruling by the Kennebec County Superior Court that
a landlord may not be sued for a dog attack if the dog is owned by
tenants and is presumably under their control.
In May 1998 an Akita owned by Donald and Robin Bailey of
Waterville, Maine, attacked their 2-year-old daughter. In July
1998 the dog attacked Kristen Stewart, 7, as her mother Michelle
Stewart visited the Baileys. Michelle Stewart held that landlord
Harrison Aldrich should be liable for allowing the Akita to live
there after the first attack.
The Wisconsin District 4 Court of Appeals on January 31
extended the liability principle in reversing the lower court
dismissal of a suit brought by Todd Helmeid of Janesville against
Charles and Nannette Vesperman and American Family Mutual Insurance.
Helmeid, 34, lifted the Vesper-mans’ dog out of the street after
the dog was struck by a hit-and-run driver.
The dying dog bit Helmeid, who then was injured by pickup
truck driver Robert Crawford. Helmeid sued the Vespermans for
allegedly causing the chain of events by illegally allowing the dog
to run at large. American Family Mutual Insurance argued that trying
to save the dog was Helmeid’s choice. The appellate court wrote that
allocating fault should be left to a jury.
In El Cajon, California, following an eight-week trial, a
Superior Court jury on February 26 awarded $6 million to Malaquias
Avalos, 66, who suffered severe brain damage on November 12, 1998,
when chased by two Rottweilers into the path of a truck. Avalos’
family sued the Rancho San Diego Golf Club, groundskeeper Jesus
Ruiz, and Ruiz’ son Jose. The incident occurred as Avalos jogged at
the club, where Jesus and Jose Ruiz kept as many as seven