Death of Diane Whipple
Diane Whipple, picture from San Francisco Chronicle coverage of her case
Diane Alexis Whipple
January 21, 1968
|Died||January 26, 2001 (aged 33)|
|Cause of death||Fatal dog attack|
|Employer||Saint Mary's College of California|
|Known for||Media coverage about her death|
Diane Alexis Whipple (January 21, 1968 – January 26, 2001) was an American lacrosse player and college coach. She was killed in a dog attack in San Francisco on January 26, 2001. The dogs involved were two Presa Canarios: a male named Bane and a female named Hera. Paul Schneider, the dogs' owner, is a high-ranking member of the Aryan Brotherhood and is serving three life sentence terms in state prison. The dogs were cared for by Schneider's attorneys, Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller, who are husband-and-wife, who lived in the same apartment building as Diane Whipple. After the fatal attack, the state brought criminal charges against the attorneys. Robert Noel, who was not present during the attack, was convicted of manslaughter. Marjorie Knoller, who was present, was charged with implied-malice second-degree murder and convicted by the jury. Knoller's murder conviction, an unusual result for an unintended dog attack, was rejected by the trial judge but ultimately upheld. The case clarified the meaning of implied malice murder.
Whipple was born in Princeton, New Jersey. She grew up and attended high school in Manhasset, New York, on Long Island. She was raised primarily by her grandparents, and was a gifted athlete from a young age. She became a two-time All-American lacrosse player in high school, and later at Penn State. 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. Instead, she became the lacrosse coach at Saint Mary's College of California in Moraga, California.
Marjorie Fran Knoller (born June 20, 1955) and Robert Edward Noel (June 22, 1941 – June 22, 2018) were attorneys married to each other. They were caregivers to the dogs that killed Whipple in San Francisco on January 26, 2001. After a trial that attracted international attention, they were sent to prison for involuntary manslaughter. However, on August 22, 2008, San Francisco Judge Charlotte Woolard reinstated Knoller's second degree murder conviction.
In 2000, Knoller and Noel "obtained their two Presa Canarios, named Bane and Hera, through their relationship with a pair of Pelican Bay State Prison inmates, Paul 'Cornfed' Schneider (whom they had legally adopted as their son), and Dale Bretches, members of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang." Knoller and Noel had first met Schneider at a trial.(p. 148) Bane was male and Hera female; by January 2001, "Bane weighed 140 pounds and Hera close to 100 pounds."
On January 26, 2001, while returning home with bags of groceries, Whipple was attacked by the two dogs in the hallway of her apartment building. Knoller was taking the dogs out of their apartment at the same time Whipple returned. The dogs escaped her control and attacked Whipple.
The dogs' owner, Paul Schneider, was 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 dog-fighting business from prison. They initially asked acquaintances Janet Coumbs and Hard Times Kennel owner/breeder James Kolber of Akron, Ohio to raise the dogs during their incarceration. Against Kolber's advice, Coumbs chained the dogs in a remote corner of the farm, which caused them to become even more aggressive. After Coumbs fell out of favor with Schneider, attorneys Noel and Knoller agreed to take possession of the dogs. They had become acquainted with Schneider while doing legal work for prisoners, and had adopted Schneider (then age 38) as their legal son a few days before the mauling. Bane, the larger of the dogs, weighed 140 pounds (64 kg).
Just prior to the attack, Knoller was taking the dogs up to the roof; Bane – and possibly Hera – attacked Whipple in the hallway. (Hera's role in the mauling has never been firmly established.) Whipple suffered a total of 77 wounds to every part of her body except her scalp and bottoms of her feet. Another neighbor called 911 after hearing Whipple's screams. Whipple died hours later at San Francisco General Hospital from "loss of blood from multiple traumatic injuries (dog bite wounds)".
Whipple's memorial service at St. Mary's College, held on Thursday, February 1, 2001, was attended by more than 400 people.
Legal proceedings against dog owners
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".
At trial, Knoller argued that she had attempted to defend Whipple during the attack. However, witnesses testified that Knoller and Noel had repeatedly refused to control the dogs; a professional dog walker testified that, after she told Noel to muzzle his dogs, he told her to "shut up" and called her offensive names. An acquaintance of Noel's testified that Noel did not apologize after Hera bit him a year before the fatal attack. Ultimately, the jury found both Noel and Knoller guilty of involuntary manslaughter and owning a mischievous animal that caused the death of a human being, and found Knoller guilty of second-degree murder. 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. Whether they had actually trained the dogs to attack and fight remained unclear.
Although the jury found Knoller guilty of second degree murder, trial judge James Warren granted Knoller a new trial on the second-degree murder conviction; the judge believed the appropriate standard for implied malice murder required that Knoller knew taking the dog into the hall involved a high probability of death. Although the judge granted a new trial for the second degree murder charge, he sentenced Knoller to four years in prison for the lesser-included involuntary manslaughter on July 15, 2002. Manslaughter and murder are mutually exclusive: one cannot be convicted of both manslaughter and murder for killing the same person. The state appealed the judge's action and sought to reinstate the second degree murder conviction.
After Knoller's and Noel's convictions in 2002, the State Bar of California suspended their law licenses. Knoller resigned from the bar in January 2007; Noel was disbarred in February. On September 14, 2003, Noel was released from prison.
In May 2005, the state appellate court reversed the judge's grant of new second-degree murder trial for Knoller. The appellate court ruled that implied malice murder did not require knowledge of a high probability of death but rather just a conscious disregard of serious bodily injury. The appellate court returned the case to the lower court to reconsider Knoller's motion for a new trial using the serious bodily injury standard for implied malice murder.
On June 1, 2007, the California Supreme Court rejected the Court of Appeal's decision and ruled that implied malice murder required proof that a defendant acted with "conscious disregard" of the danger to human life. The Supreme Court held that the trial court's standard for implied malice murder (which required a high probability of death) was too strict and the appellate court's standard (which required only serious bodily injury rather than a danger to human life) was too broad. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court to reconsider whether to allow the second-degree murder conviction to stand in light of this new reasoning. The San Francisco Superior Court reinstated the conviction for second-degree murder, and on September 22, 2008, the court sentenced Knoller to 15 years to life.
Knoller then appealed the trial court's actions. On August 23, 2010, the First District Court of Appeal unanimously upheld Knoller's conviction, finding that she acted with a conscious disregard for human life when her Presa Canario escaped and killed Whipple. The California Supreme Court declined to hear her appeal of that decision. Knoller is currently serving her sentence at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla.
In November 2015, Knoller petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to overturn her second-degree murder conviction. In February 2016, the Ninth Circuit upheld Knoller's second degree murder conviction.
Whipple's partner, Sharon Smith, also succeeded in suing Knoller and Noel for $1,500,000 in civil damages. The civil case was notable in that the San Francisco Superior Court ruled in July 2001 that Smith was entitled to bring suit as Whipple's domestic partner under the Equal Protection Clause, against the defence's argument that a same-sex unmarried partner did not have standing. She donated some of the money to Saint Mary's College of California to fund the women's lacrosse team.
Death of Robert Noel
Noel died of heart failure on June 22, 2018 in a La Jolla nursing home. It was his 77th birthday. Noel lived in relative obscurity following his release from prison, working for a time as a baker in Fairfield, California. By 2016, increasing health problems led to his living out of a van for some time before he relocated to the San Diego area.
- Fatal dog attacks in the United States
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