Diane Whipple

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Diane Whipple
Diane Whipple, picture from San Francisco Chronicle coverage of her case
Born Diane Alexis Whipple
(1968-01-21)January 21, 1968
Princeton, New Jersey, USA
Died January 26, 2001(2001-01-26) (aged 33)
San Francisco, California, USA
Cause of death
Fatal dog attack
Nationality  United States
Employer Saint Mary's College of California
Known for Media coverage about her death
Title Lacrosse coach

Diane Alexis Whipple (January 21, 1968 – January 26, 2001) was a lacrosse player and coach, who is best known as the victim of a fatal dog attack in San Francisco in January 2001. The dogs involved were two Presa Canario dogs named Bane (male) and Hera (female), owned by neighbors living in the same apartment building.


Whipple was born in Princeton, New Jersey. Her hometown became Manhasset, New York, on Long Island, where she grew up and attended high school. She was raised primarily by her grandparents, and it quickly became apparent that she was a gifted athlete. As her athletic prowess increased, lacrosse became her sport of choice.

A two-time All-American in high school, and at Penn State, perhaps no other factor more defined Whipple's life than her athletic talent and drive. She was twice a member of the U.S. Women's Lacrosse World Cup team.

Whipple later moved to San Francisco, and came within seconds of qualifying for the U.S. 1996 Olympics team in track and field, for the 800 meters. However, she did not compete at the 1996 Olympic Team Trials.[1] Failure to make the team was a huge disappointment for her. She became a coach and teacher, assuming the position as the lacrosse coach at Saint Mary's College of California in Moraga, California. She was often described[who?] as a beloved and memorable mentor. Whipple lived with her domestic partner of six years, Sharon Smith, an investment banker.[2]


Whipple was killed on January 26, 2001, by two large Perro de Presa Canario dogs that attacked her in the hallway of the apartment building where she lived. The dogs were owned by neighbors Marjorie Knoller and her husband Robert Noel, both attorneys.[3][4](p. 138) In 2000, Knoller and Noel obtained the two dogs, named Bane and Hera, through their relationship with Paul "Cornfed" Schneider, who was a Pelican Bay State Prison inmate and a leading member of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, who were attempting to start a dog fighting business.[3][5]

Due to the dog's larger size, Robert Noel usually handled Bane, who weighed 140 pounds (64 kg).[6] Marjorie Knoller was home alone with the dogs on January 26, 2001, and decided to take Bane up to the roof, which was up one flight of stairs from their apartment.[5] Whipple was returning from a trip to the grocery store when Bane—and possibly Hera—attacked her in the hallway.[3] (Hera's role in the mauling has never been firmly established.) The dog(s) caused 77 wounds to Whipple, with only her scalp and feet escaping harm. A person called 911.[7] Whipple died at San Francisco General Hospital; the cause of death was "loss of blood from multiple traumatic injuries (dog bite wounds)".[4](pp. 10,28)

Bane was euthanized immediately after the attack; Hera was seized and later euthanized in January 2002.[3]


Legal proceeding against dog owners[edit]

In March 2001, a grand jury indicted Knoller and Noel. Knoller was indicted for second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, Noel was indicted for involuntary manslaughter, and "both also face[d] felony charges of keeping a mischievous dog".[8]

The jury found both Noel and Knoller guilty of involuntary manslaughter and owning a mischievous animal that caused the death of a human being. The jury also found Knoller guilty of second-degree murder. During the trial, Knoller and her lawyers argued that she had attempted to defend Whipple during the attack. This assertion was contradicted by witness testimony. Other witnesses testified about their level of control over the dogs, including a professional dog walker, who, after telling Noel to muzzle his dogs, was told to "shut up" and called offensive names. An acquaintance of Noel's testified that Noel did not apologize after the acquaintance was bitten by Hera a year before the fatal attack.[4][9][10](p. 211) Their convictions were based on the argument that they knew the dogs were aggressive towards other people and that they did not take sufficient precautions with such large and dangerous animals. Whether they had actually trained the dogs to attack and fight remained unclear.[3][11][12][13] After Knoller's and Noel's convictions in 2002, the State Bar of California suspended their law licenses.[14][15] Noel was disbarred in February 2007.[16]

The dogs had been raised by Janet Coumbs on behalf of 38-year-old Paul Schneider, a high-ranking member of the prison gang the Aryan Brotherhood who was serving a life sentence in Pelican Bay State Prison. Schneider and his cellmate Dale Bretches were attempting to start an illegal Presa Canario fighting-dog business from within the prison cell. Coumbs had been working with Schneider and Hard Times Kennel owner/breeder James Kolber of Akron, Ohio, regarding the acquisition of the dogs. Against Kolber's advice, Coumbs chained the dogs in a remote corner of the farm, treatment which caused them even more problems with aggression. This led to Coumbs' falling out of favor with Schneider.[4](pp. 105,122,128) Noel and Knoller had become acquainted with Schneider while doing legal work for prisoners, and adopted him as their son a few days before the mauling. They agreed to take possession of the dogs after Coumbs fell out of favor with Schneider.

The trial judge ordered a new trial on Knoller's second-degree murder count, ruling that implied malice requires a defendant to subjectively know that his or her conduct had a high probability of resulting in death.[17] State prosecutors appealed, seeking to reinstate the second-degree murder conviction. As of early 2004, both Knoller and Noel had served their terms for the manslaughter conviction and Knoller was out on bail while her conviction was under appeal. In May 2005, based on its understanding of implied malice to require defendant's subjective appreciation and conscious disregard of a likely risk of causing serious bodily injury to another, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's call for a new trial on the second-only degree murder count, and Knoller appealed to the California Supreme Court.[6][18]

On June 1, 2007, the California Supreme Court rejected the Court of Appeal's decision, ruling that the correct standard of implied malice was not simply an awareness of the risk of serious bodily harm, but requires proof that a defendant acted with conscious disregard of the danger to human life.[19] The Court held that the trial court had set the bar too high, finding that implied malice would be possible only if the defendant knew his or her conduct had a high probability of resulting in death. In contrast, the Court found that the appellate court had set the bar too low, finding that implied malice would be possible if the defendant were aware her conduct risked causing serious bodily injury. The Court ordered the trial court to reconsider whether to allow the second degree murder conviction to stand, in following with the reasoning it set forth.[20][21]

The trial court in this case, the San Francisco Superior Court, reinstated the conviction for second-degree murder, and on September 22, 2008, the court sentenced Marjorie Knoller to serve 15 years to life for the death of Diane Whipple.[22][23]

On August 23, 2010, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled 3–0 that Marjorie Knoller acted with a conscious disregard for human life when her Presa Canario escaped and killed Diane Whipple in 2001. Knoller is serving a sentence of 15 years to life. She was initially paroled after serving four years on the manslaughter conviction.

In addition to the criminal charges, Sharon Smith also succeeded in suing Knoller and Noel for $1,500,000 in civil damages. She donated monies to Saint Mary's College of California to fund the women's lacrosse team. Three months after her death, Whipple was celebrated at St. Mary's by her lacrosse team and over 600 people.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "1996 Olympic Team Trials - Women". USA Track & Field. 
  2. ^ Allen, Dan (2002-04-30). "Justice for Sharon: the dog-mauling trial ended with guilty verdicts, but for Sharon Smith, partner to the woman killed, another legal battle is about to begin". The Advocate. Retrieved 2007-06-25. [dead link]
  3. ^ a b c d e Van Derbeken, Jaxon. "Why jury called it murder. Negligence, deception cited in mauling trial." San Francisco Chronicle, March 22, 2002.
  4. ^ a b c d Jones, Aphrodite. Red Zone: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of the San Francisco Dog Mauling. New York: William Morrow, 2003. ISBN 0-06-053779-5
  5. ^ a b Costantinou, Marianne. "Bad Company: How did two otherwise unremarkable lawyers end up enmeshed in one of the most bizarre and brutal killings San Francisco has seen in recent years?" San Francisco Chronicle, June 10, 2001.
  6. ^ a b Lockyer, Bill, et al. Appellant’s Opening Brief. In the Court of Appeal of the State of California / First Appellate District, Division Two. The People of the State of California, Plaintiff and Appellant, V. Marjorie F. Knoller, Defendant and Respondent. San Francisco County Superior Court No. 18181301, The Honorable James L. Warren, Judge. April 11, 2003.
  7. ^ Chmielewski, Dawn C. "Tragic Accident or Criminal Act? - Mauling Trial Lawyers Clash in Final Arguments. Heavily Watched, Emotion-Charged Case Against S.F. Couple Goes to Jury Today." San Jose Mercury News, March 19, 2002.
  8. ^ Chiu, Alexis. "Grand Jury Indicts Two in Fatal S.F. Dog Mauling. 2nd-Degree Murder, Manslaughter Among Charges Husband, Wife Face." San Jose Mercury News, March 28, 2001.
  9. ^ Van Derbeken, Jaxon. "Knoller picks new attorney for appeal. Flamboyant trial lawyer Ruiz replaced by veteran Riordan." San Francisco Chronicle, April 10, 2002.
  10. ^ Chmielewski, Dawn C. "Testimony Is Challenged - The Prosecutor Disputes Details from Marjorie Knoller, Saying She has Been Inconsistent in Her Accounts in Court and to the S.F. Grand Jury About Efforts to Save Diane Whipple." San Jose Mercury News, March 13, 2002.
  11. ^ Zamora, Jim Herron. "Knoller likely to be freed from prison. Parole may begin today in dog-maul case." San Francisco Chronicle, January 1, 2004.
  12. ^ Webby, Sean. "Judge Sentences S.F. Woman to 4 Years for Fatal Mauling - Maximum Term for Neighbor's Death." San Jose Mercury News, July 16, 2002.
  13. ^ Matier, Phillip, and Andrew Ross. "Robert Noel, of killer-dog case fame, to get out of prison. Former attorney will serve 2-year parole in Solano County." San Francisco Chronicle, September 10, 2003.
  14. ^ Lagos, Marisa. "Couple convicted in dog mauling lose licenses to practice law." San Francisco Chronicle, April 7, 2007.
  15. ^ State Bar of California. "Marjorie Fran Knoller - #158054." Retrieved December 30, 2007.
  16. ^ State Bar of California. "Robert Edward Noel - #68477." Retrieved December 30, 2007.
  17. ^ 41 Cal. 4th 139, 158 P.3d 731, 59 Cal. Rptr. 3d 157 (2007)
  18. ^ Egelko, Bob. "Jury's verdict reinstated in dog mauling. State appeals court overrules judge who reduced conviction." San Francisco Chronicle, May 6, 2005.
  19. ^ Id.
  20. ^ Egelko, Bob. "State's top court OKs dog maul murder charge. Judge ordered to reconsider owner's original conviction." San Francisco Chronicle, June 1, 2007.
  21. ^ "California Supreme Court Sends Murder Conviction in S.F. Dog Attack Case Back To The Trial Court Using The Correct Test For Implied Malice." California v. Marjorie Knoller, May 31, 2007.
  22. ^ "Knoller Gets 15 to Life in Dog-Mauling Case"- law.com
  23. ^ [1]

Further reading[edit]

  • Harrington, Joseph. "Death of an Angel: The Inside Story of how Justice Prevailed in the San Francisco Dog-Mauling Case".
  • Jones, Aphrodite. Red Zone: The Behind-The-Scenes Story of the San Francisco Dog Mauling. ISBN 0-06-053782-5
  • Millan, Cesar. Cesar's Way (contains a section on this case).
  • O'Leary, Shannon. Pet Noir (contains a story by O'Leary, illustrated by MariNaomi, of this case), Manic D Press.
  • Wright, Evan. Hella Nation (contains an investigative report into the case, titled "Mad Dogs and Lawyers")

External links[edit]