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 a 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 a life sentence in state prison. The dogs were cared for by Schneider's husband-and-wife attorneys, Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller, 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. She became the lacrosse coach at Saint Mary's College of California in Moraga, California.[when?]
Marjorie Fran Knoller (born c. 1956) and Robert Edward Noel (born c. 1942) were attorneys married to each other. They were caregivers to the dogs that killed Diane 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.
As Knoller was reported to be 46 years old in 2002, she was born c.1956. After attending Brooklyn College, Knoller received her J.D. degree from McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, California.
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 (who 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."
Events of January 26, 2001
Although because of his larger size Noel "usually handled Bane," Knoller "was home alone with the dogs" on January 26, 2001, and "Bane had to go out," so "she decided to take Bane up to the roof, just one flight up the stairs." Diane Whipple was "returning from a trip to the grocery store" when Bane and possibly Hera attacked her in the hallway. (Hera's "role in the mauling has never been firmly established." There was "no way to prove or disprove" that Hera participated in the attack on Whipple; however, "Hera had parts of Diane [Whipple]'s clothes in her feces," and "experts and authorities speculated that the bites on Whipple's inner thighs had most probably come from Hera."(pp. 277–278).)
The dog(s) caused "77 wounds" to Whipple, with "only her scalp and feet escap[ing] harm." Whipple died at San Francisco General Hospital; the cause of death was "loss of blood from multiple traumatic injuries (dog bite wounds)."(pp. 10,28)
Bane "was destroyed immediately after the attack"; Hera was seized and destroyed in January 2002.
On January 29, 2001, "Knoller and Noel formally adopt[ed] Schneider, who [was] serving a life sentence for aggravated assault and attempted murder." It was reported that "even their relatives [were] at a loss to understand" the adoption.
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."
- The participation of Kimberly Guilfoyle as "second chair" to lead prosecutor James Hammer.(p. 211)
- Opening arguments by Knoller's defense attorney Nedra Ruiz in which she "kicked the jury box, yelled and got down on her hands and knees to re-enact what she described as Knoller's attempts to protect Whipple from the dog attack."
- Knoller's testimony, which included claims that she "attempt[ed] to protect Whipple," that "she... kicked on a neighbor's door for help," and that "12 of 13 incidents recounted by earlier witnesses of attacks by the couple's dogs" had not occurred. Prosecutor Hammer attempted "to puncture holes" in this testimony.
- "National and international press" coverage (e.g., in "Japan, England, and Australia"), with a "media circus" atmosphere, and a "flood" of talk in Internet chat rooms about the case.(pp. 287–289,293)
The jury convicted Knoller and Noel on all counts in March 2002. Knoller became "the first person ever to be convicted of murder in a dog-mauling case in California." Jurors interviewed after the trial said that Knoller's testimony was "not believable."
In April 2002, Knoller replaced her attorney Nedra Ruiz with attorney Dennis Riordan. A San Francisco Superior Court judge, in a June 2002 ruling, overturned Knoller's second-degree murder conviction because he could not "say, as a matter of law, that her [Knoller's] conduct was such that she subjectively knew on Jan. 26 that a human being was likely to die." Prosecutor Hammer called the decision a "travesty."(p. 307)
Noel was sentenced in June 2002 "to the four-year maximum term" for involuntary manslaughter. He was sent to Deuel Vocational Institution but was later moved to Oregon because of "concerns that his having represented inmates and prison guards in California might jeopardize his safety."
Knoller was sentenced in July 2002 to four years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and "was transferred within hours" to Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW). In September 2003 Knoller was "still serving her time" at VSPW when Noel was sent from Oregon to High Desert State Prison and then paroled to Solano County.
During her time at VSPW, Knoller "refused to work." The January 1, 2004, Los Angeles Times stated that Knoller served all "16 months of [her] four-year sentence" at VSPW, which "is typical for inmates who avoid trouble in prison and receive credit for time served in jail before sentencing." The January 1, 2004, San Francisco Chronicle stated that Knoller was to be released from VSPW to "serve three years' parole somewhere in Southern California." According to newspaper reports on January 3, 2004, however, Knoller was actually released from Central California Women's Facility on January 1, 2004, and sent to Ventura County on parole.
The terms of Knoller's and Noel's paroles included:
The office of California Attorney General Bill Lockyer had filed an April 2003 appeal of the Superior Court's June 2002 overturning of Knoller's second-degree murder conviction. In May 2005 the California 1st District Court of Appeal reinstated the jury's verdict of second-degree murder; Knoller's attorney Dennis Riordan said he would appeal the Court of Appeal's decision.
After Knoller's and Noel's convictions in 2002, the State Bar of California had suspended their law licenses. In April 2007, it was reported that both Knoller and Noel had lost their law licenses. Knoller resigned her license in January 2007, and Noel was disbarred in February 2007.
In May 2007 the Supreme Court of California sent the 2002 case back to the Superior Court "to consider restoring [the] jury's second-degree murder conviction." The California Supreme Court "rejected both the lower-court standards and said Knoller, or any other defendant responsible for unintentional but fatal injuries, can be convicted of murder if they acted with 'conscious disregard of the danger to human life'."
On September 22, 2008, the San Francisco Superior Court re-instated Marjorie Knoller's conviction for second degree murder. The court sentenced Knoller to serve 15 years to life in state prison, with credit for time served.
The Whipple case was the inspiration for the 2001 Law & Order episode "Who Let the Dogs Out?"
On January 26, 2001, after returning home with bags of groceries, Whipple was attacked by two large Perro de Presa Canario dogs in the hallway of her apartment building. The dogs, named Bane and Hera, were cared for by neighbors Marjorie Knoller and her husband Robert Noel.
The dogs' actual 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 15 July 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.
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 probabily 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. She donated some of the money to Saint Mary's College of California to fund the women's lacrosse team.
- Fatal dog attacks in the United States
- Kimberly Guilfoyle, prosecutor (along with James Hammer) in first trial
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- Van Derbeken, Jaxon. Knoller picks new attorney for appeal. Flamboyant trial lawyer Ruiz replaced by veteran Riordan. San Francisco Chronicle, April 10, 2002.
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- Malnic, Eric. Owner of Killer Dogs to Go Free; The woman convicted in the fatal S.F. mauling will be paroled to the Southland. Her husband was paroled to Northern California. Los Angeles Times, January 1, 2004.
- Parrilla, Leslie Parolee in fatal dog-mauling case moves to Ventura County. Ventura County Star, January 3, 2004.
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- State Bar of California. Robert Edward Noel - #68477. Accessed 2007 Dec 30.
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- People v Knoller, 41 Cal. 4th 139 (2007)
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- Dog Bite Law discussion
- The San Francisco Dog Mauling
- Court TV coverage of Diane Whipple dog mauling case
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The case, set against the backdrop of a region that often serves as a dumping ground for unwanted pets, was one of only a handful of trials nationwide in which prosecutors have brought murder charges in a fatal dog attack. ... The National Canine Research Council estimates about 30 people are killed by dogs each year.
- Documentary series Mugshots from Court TV (now TruTV) "MUGSHOTS: Knoller and Noel – The Attack Dog Scandal" episode (2002) at FilmRise
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- Barry, David. Descent into Darkness. Two liberal San Francisco attorneys got involved in the Aryan Brotherhood. It cost them their freedom, and their souls. Intelligence Report, Southern Poverty Law Center, Summer 2002.