The woman convicted in a 2002 fatal dog mauling is going back to jail.
A San Francisco Superior Court judge today reinstated the 2002 second-degree murder conviction of Marjorie Knoller for the fatal dog mauling of her apartment neighbor Diane Whipple, and immediately ordered her back into custody.
Denying a motion by Knoller’s attorneys for a new trial, Judge Charlotte Woolard ruled that Knoller, 53, “acted with conscious disregard for human life” when two Presa Canario guard dogs owned by Knoller and her husband Robert Noel attacked Whipple, a 33-year-old lacrosse coach, in the hallway of their Pacific Heights apartment building on Jan. 26, 2001.
The couple adopted the dogs from state prison inmate Paul “Cornfed” Schneider, a reputed member of the Aryan Brotherhood who was planning a guard-dog business to be called “Dog-O-War.” They later adopted Schneider as their son, three days after Whipple’s death.
“This was a vicious, protracted, extended mauling lasting over 10 minutes,” Woolard said, adding that Whipple’s clothes had been entirely shredded during the attack.
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 building. After the mauling began, the second dog, Hera, joined Bane in the hallway.
Trial evidence showed that Whipple suffered 77 wounds from the 150- and 130-pound dogs and lost one-third of her blood.
The dogs had previously threatened people and other dogs about 30 other times, including others living in the apartment building, testimony showed.
Woolard said the evidence was sufficient to show that Knoller had been aware the dogs were capable of killing a human being if not properly restrained. She added that Knoller’s testimony in the trial was “riddled with inconsistencies,” “untruthful,” and contradicted by other evidence that been presented.
Deputy Attorney General Amy Haddix said today that Knoller never intervened in the attack “in any meaningful way,” never called 911, and later blamed Whipple for the attack.
Woolard cited a nationally televised interview with Knoller after the attacks during which Knoller claimed Whipple refused to follow her advice and stay inside her apartment, and was attacked by one of the dogs after punching Knoller in the eye.
Knoller had also been warned previously by an experienced veterinarian that the dogs were large, dangerous and “had no training or discipline,” Haddix said.
“They were terrorizing the people in this apartment complex, there is no question about that,” said Haddix.
Knoller “saw with her own eyes the risk that these dogs were posing to her neighbors,” she said.
Haddix asserted that Knoller and Noel “were obsessed with these dogs” and valued their canine lives over the other people who lived in the building.
“They were going to walk these dogs and own these dogs, and everyone could just get out if they didn’t like it,” Haddix stated.
The 2002 jury’s second-degree murder conviction of Knoller was subsequently overturned by trial Judge James Warren for a lesser, involuntary manslaughter conviction.
Knoller served three years of a four-year prison sentence, and was released on parole with credit for good behavior while in prison.
Noel, who was not present during the attack, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and also spent three years in prison.
The state Supreme Court in 2007 ruled Warren, who is now retired, used the wrong standard in reducing Knoller’s conviction and ordered a new hearing on whether the second-degree murder conviction was the correct one.
Knoller’s attorney Dennis Riordan argued today that Knoller did not have the intent to kill.
“The murder charge in this case never made sense,” Riordan said, maintaining that the most appropriate judge to rule on the case was Warren, who listened to the witnesses firsthand.
To overturn Warren’s ruling would “take an act of great hubris” and would proclaim Warren “foolish,” Riordan contended.
Riordan said Woolard’s decision sets a dangerous precedent for California law and “the very definition of murder,” and promised “an extraordinary, substantial appeal.”
“This case is a long way from being done,” he said.
Knoller, who now lives in Florida and returned to San Francisco for today’s hearing, showed no emotion during Woolard’s ruling. She was led away by sheriff’s deputies and will remain in custody until her sentencing Sept. 22.
She faces a maximum of 15 years to life in prison, but will likely receive four years credit for time already served.
Following the hearing, Whipple’s partner Sharon Smith said she was “very thankful” for the decision and for Haddix’s work in the case.
“Being here today ... it just erases the last six years of my life ... all the tragedy ... all the memories come flooding in,” said Smith.
“There’s no excuse ... this was murder,” Smith said, adding that she was relieved Knoller’s appeals “will be done from her prison cell.”