Death of 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, U.S.
Died January 26, 2001(2001-01-26) (aged 33)
San Francisco, California, U.S.
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 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.[1] She became the lacrosse coach at Saint Mary's College of California in Moraga, California.[when?]

At the time of her death, Whipple lived in San Francisco's Pacific Heights with her domestic partner of six years, Sharon Smith.[2]


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.[3][4]

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,[4] 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).[5]

Just prior to the attack, Knoller was taking the dogs up to the roof;[6] Bane – and possibly Hera – attacked Whipple in the hallway.[3] (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.[7] Whipple died hours later at San Francisco General Hospital from "loss of blood from multiple traumatic injuries (dog bite wounds)".[4]

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

Whipple's memorial service at St. Mary's College, held on Thursday, February 1, 2001, was attended by more than 400 people.[8]

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".[9]

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.[4][10][11] 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.[3][12][13][14]

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.[15] Manslaughter and murder are 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.[16]

After Knoller's and Noel's convictions in 2002, the State Bar of California suspended their law licenses.[17][18] Noel was disbarred in February 2007.[19]

On September 14, 2003, Noel was released from prison.[20][21]

As of early 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.[16] 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.[16]

Knoller appealed the appellate court decision to the Supreme Court of California.[5][22]

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.[16] 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.[23][24] 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.[25][26]

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.[27]

In November 2015, Knoller petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to overturn her second-degree murder conviction.[15] In February 2016, the Ninth Circuit upheld Knoller's second degree murder conviction.[28][29]

Whipple's partner, Sharon Smith, also succeeded in suing Knoller and Noel for $1,500,000 in civil damages.[30] She donated some of the money to Saint Mary's College of California to fund the women's lacrosse team.

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 Van Derbeken, Jaxon (March 22, 2002). "Why jury called it murder. Negligence, deception cited in mauling trial". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  4. ^ a b c d 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. 
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  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. ^ Kurt Streeter (2 February 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 11 August 2014. 
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Van Derbeken, Jaxon. "Knoller picks new attorney for appeal. Flamboyant trial lawyer Ruiz replaced by veteran Riordan." San Francisco Chronicle, April 10, 2002.
  11. ^ 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)
  12. ^ Zamora, Jim Herron. "Knoller likely to be freed from prison. Parole may begin today in dog-maul case." San Francisco Chronicle, January 1, 2004.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ a b Mintz, Howard (November 15, 2015). "Fatal San Francisco dog maul case back in spotlight". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 2015-12-22. 
  16. ^ a b c d People v Knoller, 41 Cal. 4th 139 (2007)
  17. ^ Lagos, Marisa. "Couple convicted in dog mauling lose licenses to practice law." San Francisco Chronicle, April 7, 2007.
  18. ^ State Bar of California. "Marjorie Fran Knoller - #158054." Retrieved December 30, 2007.
  19. ^ State Bar of California. "Robert Edward Noel - #68477." Retrieved December 30, 2007.
  20. ^ Chuang, Stephanie (November 16, 2015). "Dog Owner Seeks to Overturn Conviction in 2001 Mauling Death". NBC Bay Area. Retrieved October 1, 2016. 
  21. ^ Goodyear, Charlie (September 15, 2003). "Dog-maul case figure paroled / Robert Noel released early from prison". SFgate. Retrieved October 1, 2016. 
  22. ^ Egelko, Bob. "Jury's verdict reinstated in dog mauling. State appeals court overrules judge who reduced conviction." San Francisco Chronicle, May 6, 2005.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ "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.
  25. ^ "Knoller Gets 15 to Life in Dog-Mauling Case"-
  26. ^[dead link]
  27. ^ "High Court Rejects Appeal In Fatal San Francisco Dog Mauling Case". 2010-12-01. 
  28. ^
  29. ^ "San Francisco Fatal Dog Mauling Conviction Upheld". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 2016-02-06. 
  30. ^ "Fatal San Francisco dog maul case back in spotlight". 2015-11-15. 

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]