Law Review: evidence mounting in dog mauling death trial |

Law Review: evidence mounting in dog mauling death trial

The jury in the Dianne Whipple dog-mauling case is beginning to get a picture of why defendant Marjorie Knoller was charged with second-degree murder for allowing her dogs to attack the St. Mary’s lacrosse coach in the hall outside their San Francisco apartments last year.

Every bit as bad as the evidence is the demeanor of the husband and wife defendants, and their attorney Nedra Ruiz, who on the opening day of trial crawled on her hands and knees describing the dog attack — to the chagrin of the judge who finally ordered her on her “two feet.”

Their character is not helping. When Dianne Whipple’s domestic partner Sharon Smith was on the stand testifying about how Whipple had been bitten by one of the dogs in the past and was deathly afraid of them, after being handed a note from Knoller, Ruiz asked this question: “Do you consider that if you had made a complaint, that Dianne Whipple might be alive today?”

Assume no responsibility — blame everyone else. An intelligent jury will hold that question against Knoller and Noel. Of course, that’s what I said about O.J.

The evidence piles on. At one point, Smith testified she saw Bane, the dog that killed her partner, in the lobby and put out her hand in trepidation, only to be told by Noel: “No, don’t do that!” The dog had just been in a fight with another dog and was “spooked.”

Testimony was elicited that Knoller and Noel blamed the San Francisco police department. Apparently the first two officers on the scene didn’t administer to Whipple for four minutes. One of the officers testified, “I was scared for my life. After seeing the victim and knowing that there were dogs, I didn’t know whether I was going to be attacked as well.”

The paramedic who tended to Knoller’s minor injuries, said that in the 15 minutes he was with Knoller, she did “not once” ask about Whipple.

The first prosecution witness to testify about Knoller after the attack was an animal control officer, who arrived on the scene immediately after the incident. She said Knoller was “oddly calm — almost cold.”

Damaging testimony came from Dr. Donald Martin, a veterinarian who had examined the killer dog Bane months before the attack. He told the court that Bane was the leader of a pack of vicious animals and was a clear threat to go “out of control.” “It was unsafe to really handle him. The potential (for injury) was too great.”

Amazingly, Martin had written to Knoller telling her of his findings, one more bit of ammunition in the prosecution’s case that Knoller and Noel had knowledge of the dogs’ viciousness. The vet told the jury that he would not get into the cage with the other dog Hera to vaccinate her, finally vaccinating the dog through a fence.

The owner of a farm where the dogs were kept chained for months, Janet Coumbs, testified to the aggressiveness of the dogs. She told the court she had been sued by Knoller and Noel to win custody of the dogs on behalf of (their adopted son) Paul “Cornfed” Schneider, resident of Pelican Bay State Prison. Coumbs blamed the dogs’ behavior on “Cornfed,” who allegedly insisted that the dogs not be socialized. Which reinforces the adage: Dogs take after their masters.

Coumbs testified that Bane was gentle to her kitten Chewy Chewbacca, but on the other hand she added, “we had a house for Bane, he ate it, he tore it apart.” Bane also tore up Coumbs’ house and marked it as his territory. Hera devoured one of her sheep and was “aggressive.” An understatement.

One of the two prosecutors is Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom. She is the new wife of San Francisco Supervisor Gavin Newsom, clearly the best and most level-headed supervisor in the City D by a long-shot. His father is former Squaw Valley resident and Placer County Superior Court Judge William Newsom, who moved up to the Court of Appeals. The Newsoms are bright and articulate — and well-liked.

We will keep you posted as Knoller and Noel “step in it” in upcoming proceedings.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter/Simon, with offices in Truckee and Reno. He is a mediator and was the Governor’s appointee to the Bipartisan McPherson Commission and the California Fair Political Practices Commission. He may be reached at or at the firm’s Web site

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