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California and the West

Dogs' Owners Charged in Fatal Attack

Mauling: A San Francisco attorney is indicted on a second-degree murder count and she and her husband on lesser ones in the death of a lacrosse coach.


SAN FRANCISCO — The owners of a dog that mauled a lacrosse coach to death in an attack that horrified the nation were indicted on felony charges by a grand jury here Tuesday and were later arrested in a small town nearly 200 miles away.

Attorney Marjorie Knoller, 45, faces charges of second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and failing to control a mischievous animal that harmed a human. If convicted, she could serve 15 years to life in prison.

Her husband, Robert Noel, 59, also an attorney, was charged with the two lesser counts and faces a sentence of four years in prison if convicted in the attack on Diane Whipple, 33.

Because the grand jury proceedings are secret, Dist. Atty. Terence Hallinan declined to discuss how the 19-member body reached its decision and why they arrived at harsher charges for Knoller than Noel.

"I am not at liberty to discuss the evidence," Hallinan said, "but she was there [during the attack] and he was not."

Assistant Dist. Atty. James Hammer, who conducted the proceedings before the grand jury, said his office was driven to push for the stiff charges "by the horrific way in which Diane Whipple died. We're gratified at this point. Our goal was to seek justice."

In an attack that riveted the nation and split this normally animal-loving city, Knoller lost control of her two dogs, one a Canary Island dog, the other a Canary-mastiff cross, in the hallway of her Pacific Heights apartment building in January.

Whipple, who lived down the hall from Knoller and Noel, was scrambling to unlock her apartment door and get to safety when the dogs, Bane and Hera, lunged at her, according to police. At 110 pounds, Whipple was outweighed by both of them.

Hera allegedly tore at Whipple's clothing. Bane went for her throat. Officers who arrived at the scene required counseling because the attack was so grisly.

On Tuesday morning, Knoller testified before the grand jury and then suffered an anxiety attack. Paramedics were called, but she was able to leave the San Francisco Hall of Justice on her own when proceedings recessed for lunch.

At that point, the couple got in their car and began "driving at high speed in a northerly direction, out of the jurisdiction of San Francisco," Hallinan said.

Because the authorities had no idea where the attorneys were staying, police followed them out of town. When they began driving at speeds in excess of 90 mph, police called the Highway Patrol. Officers pulled them over for reckless driving and unsafe lane changes, the CHP said.

They were later arrested in the small town of Corning in Tehama County, where they are scheduled to be arraigned. Knoller is being held on $2-million bail; her husband is being held on $1-million bail.

After the attack on Whipple, Knoller and Noel argued in a rambling, 18-page letter to authorities that the dogs probably were attracted to perfume that the college coach may have been wearing or steroids they said she might have been taking--charges that appalled authorities and Whipple's friends and family.

The couple said that Knoller was trying to push Whipple back into her apartment and keep her away from the dogs but that the young athlete kept coming back out into the hallway and danger. At one point, they said, she struck Knoller. And at any point, they said, she could have simply shut her apartment door.

As the investigation into the attack continued, authorities uncovered evidence that the dogs had been raised for two members of the Aryan Brotherhood, Paul "Cornfed" Schneider and Dale Bretches. Both men were incarcerated at Pelican Bay, one of California's most notorious prisons.

In the days after Whipple's death, Knoller and Noel legally adopted Schneider. Investigators later served search warrants on Schneider's cell to gather evidence for their case against the two San Francisco attorneys.

Prison officials alleged that the dogs were raised as attack animals or fighting dogs on orders from Schneider and Bretches. One major question during the investigation was how much Knoller and Noel knew about the animals' predilections for violence and whether they were involved in training the animals to harm.

Hallinan said no conspiracy charges were filed against the couple for actually training the animals to fight. But he said the couple's relationship with the prisoners will come out in trial.

Cameron said that the investigation and grand jury proceeding uncovered "no evidence of possible training of fighting dogs" but that it did show "evidence of prior incidents" of violence or aggression by the dogs.

That apparently was enough for the grand jury to conclude that Knoller and Noel had knowledge that the dogs could be harmful to others. The panel heard from 39 witnesses, including Noel and Knoller.


Times staff writer Louis Sahagun contributed to this report.

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