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Death of Diane Whipple

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Diane Whipple
Diane Whipple, picture from San Francisco Chronicle coverage of her case
Diane Alexis Whipple

(1967-01-21)January 21, 1967
DiedJanuary 26, 2001(2001-01-26) (aged 33)[1]
Cause of deathFatal dog attack
EmployerSaint Mary's College of California
Known forMedia coverage about her death
TitleLacrosse coach

Diane Alexis Whipple (January 31, 1967 – January 26, 2001)[2] 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. Paul Schneider, the dogs' owner, is a high-ranking member of the Aryan Brotherhood and is serving three life sentences in state prison.[3] The dogs were looked after by Schneider's attorneys, Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller, a husband and wife who lived in the same apartment building as Whipple. After the fatal attack, the state brought criminal charges against the attorneys. Noel, who was not present during the attack, was convicted of manslaughter. 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.

Early life[edit]

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.[4] Instead, she became the lacrosse coach at Saint Mary's College of California in Moraga, California.

At the time of her death, Whipple lived in San Francisco's Pacific Heights with her domestic partner of six years, Sharon Smith.[5]


Attorneys Marjorie Fran Knoller (born June 20, 1955) and Robert Edward Noel (June 22, 1941 – June 22, 2018)[6] were caregivers to the dogs that killed Whipple. 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.[7]

After attending Brooklyn College,[8] Knoller received her J.D. degree from McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, California.[9] Noel graduated from the University of Baltimore Law School in 1967.[9]

Noel and Knoller married in 1989.[10] Starting in the mid-1990s, they ran their law office out of a converted closet in their Pacific Heights apartment in San Francisco.[10]

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, both members of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang.[9][8] Knoller and Noel had first met Schneider at a trial.[10] Bane was male and Hera female; by January 2001, Bane weighed 140 pounds and Hera close to 100 pounds.[11]


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.[9][10]

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,[10] 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.[11]

Just prior to the attack, Knoller was taking the dogs up to the roof;[8] Bane, and possibly Hera, whose role in the mauling has never been firmly established, attacked Whipple in the hallway.[9] 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.[12] Whipple died hours later at San Francisco General Hospital from "loss of blood from multiple traumatic injuries (dog bite wounds)".[10]

Bane was euthanized immediately after the attack; Hera was seized and later euthanized in January 2002.[9]

Whipple's memorial service at St. Mary's College, held on February 1, 2001, was attended by more than 400 people.[13]

Legal proceedings 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".[14]

The trial by jury, which began in January 2002, "was moved to Los Angeles because of extensive publicity in the Bay Area."[15]

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.[10][16][15] 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.[9][17][18][19]

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.[20] The state appealed the judge's action and sought to reinstate the second degree murder conviction.[21]

After Knoller's and Noel's convictions in 2002, the State Bar of California suspended their law licenses.[22] Knoller resigned from the bar in January 2007;[23] Noel was disbarred in February.[24] On September 14, 2003, Noel was released from prison.[25][26]

By 2004, both Knoller and Noel had served their terms for the manslaughter convictions, and Knoller was out on bail while her second-degree murder conviction was under appeal.

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.[21] 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.[21]

Marjorie Knoller in 2018

Knoller appealed the appellate court decision to the Supreme Court of California.[11][27] 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.[21] The California 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 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.[28][29] 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.[30]

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 Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla.[31]

In November 2015, Knoller petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to overturn her second-degree murder conviction.[20] In February 2016, the Ninth Circuit upheld Knoller's second degree murder conviction.[32][33][34]

On February 7, 2019, California commissioners denied Knoller's first application for parole.[35][36] Her December 2021 parole hearing was first postponed until August 29, 2022, then again until February 15, 2023.[citation needed] Her parole was denied. The two member panel cited her prison record and stated she would be a danger to society if released. She will again be eligible for parole in 2026,[37] at which point she will be 70-71 years of age.

Whipple's partner, Sharon Smith, also succeeded in suing Knoller and Noel for $1.5 million in damages.[20] 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 defense's argument that a same-sex unmarried partner did not have standing.[38] She donated some of the money to Saint Mary's College of California to fund the women's lacrosse team.

Death of Robert Noel[edit]

Noel died of heart failure in a La Jolla nursing home on June 22, 2018, the day of his 77th birthday.[34] 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.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Officials Working To Build Case In Fatal Dog Attack". Chicago Tribune. March 3, 2001. Retrieved December 31, 2022.
  2. ^ "Yesterday's Crimes: Dog Mauling in the Eye of a Media Storm". May 22, 2017.
  3. ^ Goodyear, Charlie; Writer, Chronicle Staff (October 28, 2003). "'Cornfed' draws 3rd life term / Inmate in dog-maul case sentenced in sheriff's 1995 killing". SFGate. Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  4. ^ "1996 Olympic Team Trials - Women". USA Track & Field.
  5. ^ Allen, Dan (April 30, 2002). "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. Archived from the original on April 1, 2005. Retrieved June 25, 2007.
  6. ^ Ed Walsh (November 14, 2018). "Man convicted in SF's infamous dog mauling case dies". Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
  7. ^ Egelko, Bob. Murder conviction reinstated in S.F. dog mauling. San Francisco Chronicle, August 23, 2008.
  8. ^ a b c 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.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Van Derbeken, Jaxon (March 22, 2002). "Why jury called it murder. Negligence, deception cited in mauling trial". San Francisco Chronicle.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Jones, Aphrodite (2003). Red Zone: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of the San Francisco Dog Mauling. New York: William Morrow. p. 138. ISBN 0-06-053779-5.
  11. ^ a b c 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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Kurt Streeter (February 2, 2001). "Dog Victim's Passion for Games, Life Recalled Funeral: Diane Whipple's friends and family remember her as a coach and competitor". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 11, 2014.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ a b 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.(p. 211)
  16. ^ Van Derbeken, Jaxon. Knoller picks new attorney for appeal. Flamboyant trial lawyer Ruiz replaced by veteran Riordan. San Francisco Chronicle, April 10, 2002.
  17. ^ Zamora, Jim Herron. Knoller likely to be freed from prison. Parole may begin today in dog-maul case. San Francisco Chronicle, January 1, 2004.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ a b c Mintz, Howard (November 15, 2015). "Fatal San Francisco dog maul case back in spotlight". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved December 22, 2015.
  21. ^ a b c d People v Knoller, 41 Cal. 4th 139 (2007)
  22. ^ Lagos, Marisa. Couple convicted in dog mauling lose licenses to practice law. San Francisco Chronicle, April 7, 2007.
  23. ^ State Bar of California. "Marjorie Fran Knoller - #158054." Retrieved December 23, 2019.
  24. ^ State Bar of California. "Robert Edward Noel - #68477." Retrieved December 23, 2019
  25. ^ Chuang, Stephanie (November 16, 2015). "Dog Owner Seeks to Overturn Conviction in 2001 Mauling Death". NBC Bay Area. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
  26. ^ Goodyear, Charlie (September 15, 2003). "Dog-maul case figure paroled / Robert Noel released early from prison". SFgate. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
  27. ^ Egelko, Bob. Jury's verdict reinstated in dog mauling. State appeals court overrules judge who reduced conviction. San Francisco Chronicle, May 6, 2005.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ "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.
  30. ^ "Knoller Gets 15 to Life in Dog-Mauling Case"- law.com
  31. ^ "High Court Rejects Appeal In Fatal San Francisco Dog Mauling Case". KPIX 5 News. December 1, 2010.
  32. ^ Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California
  33. ^ "San Francisco Fatal Dog Mauling Conviction Upheld". San Jose Mercury News. February 5, 2016. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  34. ^ a b c Walsh, Ed (November 14, 2018). "Man convicted in SF's infamous dog mauling case dies". Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved January 30, 2019.
  35. ^ "Parole denied to attorney serving life sentence in San Francisco dog mauling". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. February 8, 2019.
  36. ^ Hurd, Rick (February 8, 2019). "Marjorie Knoller, convicted in dog-mauling death of Saint Mary's coach Diane Whipple, denied parole". The Mercury News. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
  37. ^ "Parole denied for Marjorie Knoller, convicted in San Francisco's notorious 2001 dog-mauling case". ABC7 San Francisco. February 16, 2023. Retrieved February 18, 2023.
  38. ^ "Landmark Ruling Recognizes Sharon Smith's Constitutional Right to File Wrongful Death Suit". National Center for Lesbian Rights. July 27, 2001. Retrieved March 16, 2020.

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