Prosecutors: Couple ignored warnings about dogs before fatal attack
LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- The first day in the trial of a couple whose dogs fatally mauled their neighbor concluded Tuesday with jurors hearing hearing different versions of the events that led to her death.
Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller disregarded more than 30 warnings that their dogs posed a threat, and are responsible for the death of Diane Whipple, said prosecutors. An assistant district attorney also showed jurors photos of Whipple's injuries.
"Diane Whipple was not the first victim of these dogs," Assistant District Attorney Jim Hammer said in Los Angeles County Superior Court. "She was the last victim."
A defense attorney disagreed, claiming Knoller tried to free her neighbor from a "berserk beast" that wouldn't obey her commands. Noel's lawyer said Noel was not home when the attack occurred January 26, 2001.
The married couple, both lawyers, have pleaded innocent to involuntary manslaughter.
Knoller -- she was with the two, large Presa Canario dogs when they lunged for Whipple -- was also charged with second-degree murder. The couple also faces a charge of keeping a mischievous animal that killed a human being. Under California's penal code, any person owning or having custody of a dog trained to attack or kill may be held liable if the dog kills a human.
Whipple, who lived in the same apartment building as the defendants, had the key in the door and one of two grocery bags inside when the dogs attacked, testimony showed. During the mauling, the dogs, which have since been destroyed, ripped Whipple's clothes from her body, Hammer said.
Officers found a naked Whipple, "her throat ripped," bleeding and crawling toward her apartment, Hammer said. Knoller did little to stop the attack or assist Whipple, he said.
"Marjorie was nowhere to be seen and she didn't call 911," he said.
Defense: Efforts failed
Knoller's attorney, Nedra Ruiz, disputed the prosecution's account, claiming Knoller engaged in a desperate struggle to save Whipple "from the jaws of this berserk beast."
Ruiz said Knoller tried repeatedly to stop the leashed dog, Bane, which weighed more than 100 pounds, but it pulled her down the hallway, reached Whipple and jumped on her.
Ruiz said Knoller pushed Whipple inside her apartment, trying to protect her, but the two women fell to the floor. Meanwhile, Hera, the other dog, left the apartment Knoller shared with her husband and came to the door of Whipple's apartment.
Flailing, Whipple accidentally struck Knoller in the face, Ruiz said, and the dogs attacked. "Marjorie is screaming, 'Stop! No!'" Ruiz said, adding that Knoller kept yanking on the leash to keep the dog away.
Knoller wept as Ruiz, sometimes crawling on the floor to describe what happened, said her client covered Whipple with her own body to protect her from the dogs' bites.
"No one is sorrier, no one is sorrier that Marjorie Knoller could not save Ms. Whipple than Marjorie Knoller, who risked her life trying to save Ms. Whipple," Ruiz said.
Jurors saw photos of Whipple's body, which depicted bite marks all over her body -- especially her neck area. Whipple died of blood loss and asphyxiation after her trachea was crushed by the dogs, Hammer said.
Ruiz offered jurors pictures of Knoller that police took shortly after the attack, showing her face, hair and clothing bloodied. Her hands were also bloody and cut -- evidence, Ruiz said, that Knoller tried to stop the attack.
Hammer said the couple operated a kennel called "Dog of War" with two state prisoners, and he read aloud from letters he said Noel wrote to those men in which the defendant appeared to take delight in how the dogs frightened neighbors.
Also Tuesday, the prosecution described the couple's relationship with two inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison, both members of a white supremacist prison gang.
Hammer displayed a letter written by Noel to one of the prisoners, convicted murderer Paul Schneider, whom they adopted after the attacks. In that letter, Noel describes the relationship between the couple and the inmate, serving life, as "the triad."
"If it were permitted to be accomplished through a second marriage, that would have been the medium," Noel wrote, according to Hammer. It was not clear why the couple adopted Schneider.
Noel's personal life is immaterial to the case, said Bruce Hotchkiss, Noel's lawyer.
"Having an unconventional lifestyle has nothing to do with the guilt of Mr. Noel," Hotchkiss said in his opening statement. Noel had nothing to do with the attack, and returned home to the apartment building as animal-control oficers took one of the dogs out, he said.
The couple and the prisoners had a plan to breed and train attack dogs, Hammer said. The prisoners had a draft of a Web site, advertising "Death: Ruin: Destruction," Hammer said. It showed a picture of one dog -- Bane -- and described him as a "war dog."
The couple has said the dogs were not aggressive, but the victim's domestic partner disagreed. Whipple was bitten once before, she said.
"I believe that they knew the dogs were aggressive because these dogs had lunged at people before," said Sharon Smith, the partner. "They had bitten before."
Arraignment delayed again in dog mauling case
April 13, 2001
Bails set for couple charged in fatal dog attack
March 28, 2001
California couple accused of homicide in dog attack
March 28, 2001
Owner gives account of fatal dog attack
February 2, 2001
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