Condemning her behavior as reckless and outrageous, a judge sentenced Marjorie Knoller to 15 years to life in prison for the 2001 dog-mauling death of neighbor Diane Whipple.
The killing of the 33-year-old college lacrosse coach — who bled to death after being bitten 77 times — and the trial that followed has grabbed headlines with such details as the dogs owned by Knoller and her husband once belonging to a white supremacist and a judge’s decision in 2002 to overturn a jury’s second-degree murder conviction.
Last month, Superior Court Judge Charlotte Woolard reinstated the murder conviction.
Although Knoller, 53, had been eligible for probation in the Jan. 26, 2001, incident, Woolard said Knoller’s lack of a criminal record was outweighed by her failure to prevent or stop the brutal 10-minute attack, as well as her subsequent perjury to a grand jury.
“She brought two large, dangerous dogs into this highly congested city, knowing it may have resulted in serious injury or death,” Woolard said.
During the mauling in the hallway of her Pacific Heights apartment building, Knoller never summoned help, called police or retrieved any of the guns she kept in her apartment, the judge said.
“Indeed, she left Miss Whipple to die in the hallway alone,” Woolard said. “She has blamed the victims and held her dogs in higher regard than humans.”
Knoller did not address the court and did not react as Whipple’s former partner, Sharon Smith, angrily addressed her in court.
“It’s been seven years and eight months since the worst day of my life and the last day of Diane’s life and finally there is justice,”
Smith said. “I hope this is the last time I see you. … May God have mercy on you.”
Prosecutors said it was the first time someone had been convicted of murder in connection with a dog mauling. She will receive credit for the three years she has already served and could be eligible for parole in 12 years.
Defense attorney Dennis Riordan said he would appeal the sentencing, which he called “motivated by San Francisco politics.”
Knoller’s husband and former law partner, Robert Noel, appeared in court but declined to speak to reporters. Noel was sentenced in 2002 to four years in prison for involuntary manslaughter in connection with Whipple’s death.
The two dogs housed by the couple, Bane and Hera, were owned by inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison. Authorities say Bane attacked Whipple, 33, at the entrance to her apartment as she returned home from grocery shopping. Hera may have also joined in the attack.
Whipple’s former partner laments Knoller’s lack of remorse
Nearly eight years after the death of her partner, Sharon Smith says she still struggles to find forgiveness for Marjorie Knoller.
“I’d love to walk away from that courtroom and forget about her. That’s what I’m praying for,” Smith said.
In court Monday, Smith decried Knoller for not calling the police or getting her gun to protect Whipple as she was attacked by the large Presa Canario dogs in 2001.
Outside court, Smith said it was difficult to face Knoller again.
“I did not want to be physically that close to her. It’s hard to be in her presence,” she said. What bothers her most, Smith said, is Knoller’s lack of remorse.
“Seven years and eight months for her to say she’s sorry, and she’s never addressed me or anyone else with an apology,” she said.
Knoller’s attorney, Dennis Riordan, said his client does feel for Whipple.
“Contrary to what has been said, her life has been devastated by what happened to Diane Whipple. It simply isn’t true that she hasn’t felt profound remorse,” Riordan said. — Tamara Barak Aparton
Knoller case timeline
Jan. 26, 2001: Diane Whipple, 33, mauled to death in hallway outside her Pacific Heights apartment by at least one dog owned by San Francisco attorneys Marjorie Knoller and
March 2001: Grand jury indicts Knoller for second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and Noel for involuntary manslaughter. Both are also indicted for felony charges of keeping a mischievous dog.
January 2002: Jury trial begins in L.A., where it was moved due to publicity.
March 2002: Jury convicts pair on all counts.
June 2002: S.F. Superior Court judge reduces Knoller’s second-degree murder conviction to involuntary manslaughter. Noel sentenced to four years in state prison.
July 2002: Knoller sentenced to four years in state prison.
May 2007: Supreme Court sends case back to S.F. Superior Court to consider reinstating conviction.
August: S.F. Superior Court reinstates second-degree murder conviction for Knoller.