Murder-by-dog Conviction reinstated & other dog attack case
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2008:
SAN FRANCISCO– San Francisco Superior Court Judge Charlotte
Woolard on September 22, 2008 sentenced former attorney Marjorie
Knoller, 53, to serve 15 years to life in prison for causing the
January 2001 dog attack death of lacrosse coach Diane Whipple, 33,
in the hallway of the apartment house where both dwelled.
“Knoller, who has served three years in prison, will have
to serve 12 more years before she can apply for parole,” reported
Associated Press writer Paul Elias.
Whipple bled to death from at least 77 wounds inflicted by
one and possibly both of two Presa Canarios kept by Knoller and
Robert Noel, her husband and law partner, for white supremacist
Paul “Cornfed” Schneider. Serving a life sentence in the California
penitentiary system, Schneider was legally adopted by Knoller and
Noel as an adult inmate.
The dogs, allegedly bred and raised to attack, had
extensive histories of biting and other dangerous behavior.
The case, among the first murder-by-dog convictions in the
U.S., has been before California courts for more than seven years,
and is likely to be appealed again, said Knoller’s attorney, Dennis
A Los Angeles jury convicted Knoller of second degree murder
in 2002, for taking the dogs out when she allegedly knew she could
not control them, and convicted Noel of involuntary manslaughter for
leaving Knoller alone with the dogs, knowing she could not hold them
back. The larger dog, who killed Whipple, weighed 140 pounds; the
smaller dog weighed 100 pounds.
“Judge James Warren of San Francisco Superior Court, who
presided over the trial, reduced Knoller’s conviction to involuntary
manslaughter,” recounted San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Bob
Egelko. “But the state Supreme Court ruled last year that Warren had
used the wrong legal standard in overturning the murder verdict. The
court said prosecutors seeking a murder conviction for dog mauling
don’t have to prove the owner knew the dog was likely to kill, only
that the owner had been aware the animal was potentially lethal and
had exposed others to the danger. The court returned the case to
Superior Court to decide whether to reinstate the murder conviction.”
Riordan cited as one possible cause for appeal that San
Francisco Superior Court presiding judge Davd [sic] Ballatti
transferred the case from Judge Warren, who has retired but was
available to again review it, to Judge Woolard.
Woolard reinstated the murder conviction on August 22,
returning Knoller to prison nearly four years after she was paroled
on the manslaughter conviction.
Rejecting Riordan’s plea for parole on the murder conviction,
Woolard noted that Knoller had not muzzled the Presa Canarios, did
not call for help, retrieve a weapon or dial 911 while the larger
dog mauled Whipple for at least 10 minutes, “lied repeatedly in
grand jury and trial testimony, has never expressed remorse, and
‘blamed the victim’ in an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America
13 days after the attack,” summarized Egelko.
Criminal convictions and stiff sentencing in dog attack cases
have become markedly more common since the original Knoller and Noel
In Michigan, Livingston County Circuit Judge Stanley
Latreille on September 18, 2008 rejected a defense similar to
Knoller’s, and sentenced Diane Cockrell, 52, to pay $30,000
restitution and serve from 43 months to 15 years in prison, after
Cockrell pleaded no contest to two felony counts of keeping dangerous
animals causing death plus a misdemeanor charge of letting her dogs
Cockrell’s four American bulldogs on September 13, 2007
escaped from her property and killed Edward Gerlach, 91, and Cheryl
Harper, 56, in separate attacks. The dogs also attacked Gerlach’s
son Eugene, who with his uncle discovered both victims. Harper was
still alive, but they were unable to get help in time to save her.
Like Presa Canarios, who are a cross of mastiff and pit bull
terrier, American bulldogs are generally recognized as pit bull
variants, or a “bully breed.”
Three California pit bull keepers were criminally charged in
connection with dog attacks within days of the Knoller re-sentencing.
Jeffrey Dwayne King Jr. and John Allan Peterson, both 23,
were jailed in Barstow on September 17, 2008 in lieu of $50,000
bond, nearly nine months after their three pit bulls killed Kelly
Caldwell, 45, on Christmas 2007. Filing the case was delayed,
deputy district attorney Sean Daugherty told San Bernardino Sun staff
writer Melissa Pinion-Whitt, pending receipt of DNA test results
that identified Caldwell’s blood on the dogs.
The case was the fourth dog attack fatality investigated in
part by San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy Steve Harbottle. One
was the fatal mauling of Cash Carson, 10, of Newberry Springs, by
two pit bulls belonging to neighbor James Chiavetta. Convicted of
manslaughter in 2001, Chiavetta died before starting a four-year
In San Jose, Ivan Bat-inich, 22, was to be arraigned on
September 30, 2008 for allowing his 10-month-old unneutered pit bull
Brutus to run loose on April 11. Brutus severely injured the hands
and left arm of Lockheed-Martin engineer Steve Belsley, 57, after
attacking Belsley’s Shiba Inu dog Bella. Bella fled, and has not
been found despite an intensive effort by Belsley and his wife Terri.
In other California dog attack cases of note, the family of
Lena Dickerson on September 23, 2008 sued Disneyland on her behalf.
On October 3, 2006 Dickerson, then age two, was severely mauled
by a German shepherd/ Labrador mix who was adopted 10 days earlier by
a Disneyland employee from the Orange County Animal Shelter. The
dog, who had a history of aggression, the suit alleges, was
introduced to the Big Thunder petting zoo, near the Big Thunder
Mountain roller coaster. The dog was apparently walked in parades
beneath exploding fireworks without incident, but attacked Lena
Dickerson after she and two siblings patted and stroked him.
On August 29, 2008 a three-judge panel of the First District
Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled unanimously that construction
worker Stephen Salinas may sue homeowner Paolo Martin, of Richmond,
California, for allowing his gardeners to keep a pit bull terrier in
his back yard while Salinas was doing a remodeling job for Martin in
2005. The dog mauled Salinas in August 2005. Salinas had warned
Martin, he testified, that he thought the dog was dangerous, and
he was not aware that the dog was loose in the yard before the
Salinas sued the gardeners as well as Martin, but the
gardeners “disappeared,” his attorney told the court.
“Superior Court Judge Judith Craddock dismissed the case
against Martin, saying there was no evidence that he had known the
dog was dangerous,” wrote San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Bob
Egelko. “But the appeals court said Craddick’s standard was too
strict and that Salinas had to show only that the contractor’s
warning made Martin aware of the potential risk.”
Martin “participated in creation of the dangerous condition
of the property by authorizing or permitting the dogs to run loose,”
wrote Justice Douglas Swager.
In Sacramento, Mark Parr, 43, and Cynthia Peters, 41,
were jailed on suspicion of robbery on August 13, 2008 and were held
in lieu of $30,000 and $32,500 bail. A sheriff’s detective who was
helping to arrest Parr and Peters for an alleged purse snatching shot
their two pit bulls when the dogs attacked a motel maintenance worker
at the scene.
The maintenance worker, 57, suffered multiple severe bites,
Sacramento County sheriff’s sergeant Tim Curran told San Francisco
Chronicle staff writer Henry K. Lee. The worker was not involved in
On June 16, 2008 the dogs had been impounded for attacking a
Sacramento Municipal Utility District worker who was apparently
investigating alleged theft of services, for which Peters was
charged. On July 8 the dogs were stolen from the Sacramento animal
Parr and Peters received a $210,000 settlement and an apology
from the city of Richmond in 2005 after police shot a pit bull
belonging to them while pursuing a suspect in an unrelated case.