Appeals court upholds murder conviction in 2001 dog attack

A state appeals court has upheld the second-degree murder conviction and sentence of 15 years to life for a San Francisco woman whose dog fatally mauled her neighbor in 2001.

A Court of Appeal panel ruled Friday that Marjorie Knoller, 55, “deliberately engaged in behavior that was a danger to human life” when she took her two powerful Presa Canario dogs into the hallway of her Pacific Heights apartment building on Jan. 26, 2001.

The dogs, Bane and Hera, attacked and killed Knoller’s neighbor, lacrosse coach Diane Whippple, 33.

Whipple suffered 77 wounds on her body and lost one-third of her blood, according to trial evidence.

The finding that Knoller had a conscious disregard for human life provided the basis for a judgment of second-degree murder and the sentence of 15 years to life.

Knoller was convicted of second-degree murder in a 2002 trial, but the original trial judge, Superior Court Judge James Warren, granted a new trial on the ground that it wasn’t clear that she knew her conduct was likely to result in death.

After further appeals, the California Supreme Court weighed in on the case in 2007, saying that the correct legal standard in such cases should be whether a defendant had a conscious disregard for human life.

A new trial judge, Charlotte Woolard, then ruled that Knoller’s conduct met that standard and affirmed the original conviction.

In Friday’s ruling, the appeals court said Knoller “knew that her conduct was dangerous to human life and acted with a conscious disregard for human life” by taking uncontrollable dogs out into the public.

Knoller and her husband, Robert Noel, who were law partners, were caring for the dogs for a prison inmate, Paul “Cornfed” Schneider, and had registered themselves as owners in early 2001.

Schneider, whom the couple adopted as their son three days after the attack, was a member of the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood prison gang and was planning a guard dog business to be called “Dog-O-War.”

Noel, who was not present at the attack, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Knoller could appeal again to the California Supreme Court and then in the federal court system. Her lawyer on appeal, Dennis Riordan, was not immediately available for comment.

Deputy California Attorney General Amy Haddix, who represented prosecutors in the appeal, said, “I think the court did a good job of disposing of the issues.”

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