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How a Similar Attack Led to a Different Verdict

June 02, 2002|STEVE BERRY

Marjorie Knoller's second-degree murder conviction is the first for a dog mauling in California. A few other dog owners have been charged with murder, but the juries in those cases opted for lesser offenses even when some defendants' handling of their dogs appeared no worse than Knoller's.

In a Barstow case last year, a man who admitted to police that he was afraid of the pit bull under his care unchained the dog and took a nap. While he snoozed, the dog attacked and killed an 11-year-old boy.

The defense attorney, Robert O'Connor of Hesperia, says the boy had a history of torturing animals, but unlike Knoller and Noel, O'Connor sensed how the public and a jury would react if he started slamming the victim. So he didn't do it.

"Jurors don't want to see the victim victimized again," he says, adding that his client was emotionally crushed by what happened to the boy. In interviews with police, O'Connor says his client presented himself well, and in court, "He was connecting with the jury." That jury deliberated three days before opting to convict his client of involuntary manslaughter instead of second-degree murder. He was sentenced last spring to three years and is expected to be free by year's end.

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