Bail officially set for lawyers on charges in dog attack
RED BLUFF, Calif. (AP) – The high-speed road trip of two lawyers facing felony charges in the dog mauling death of their neighbor ended Wednesday with a long ride back to San Francisco in the hands of deputies.
Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel, wearing jail jumpsuits and shackled at the ankles and wrists, appeared briefly in court in this small town in far northern California.
The couple had been kept overnight in safety cells, checked every 15 minutes. They appeared without lawyers at Wednesday’s hearing and were unavailable for comment.
Tehama County Judge John Garaventa set bail at $2 million for Knoller and $1 million for Noel, and said they would have to provide twice that amount if they post a property bond.
Both are charged with involuntary manslaughter and keeping a mischievous dog that killed a human being. Knoller also is charged with second-degree murder.
Knoller faces the stiffer charge because she was with the dogs in the hallway of their apartment building on Jan. 26 when they fatally mauled lacrosse coach Dianne Whipple in the hallway of their apartment building.
The murder charge carries a possible sentence of 15 years to life in prison. Involuntary manslaughter is punishable by up to four years.
”We’ve never argued it’s intentional murder,” said San Francisco assistant district attorney James Hammer. ”It’s similar to firing into a crowd – you knew it was dangerous and you did it anyway.”
Knoller, 45, and her husband, Noel, 59, were indicted by a San Francisco grand jury Tuesday and surrendered an hour later at a house in Corning, about 170 miles northeast of San Francisco.
The couple was arrested at the rural, barn-red home of Darrel and Barbara Sichel. Robert Noel has represented Darrel Sichel in past legal matters and the Sichel’s said they have an ”open-door policy” for the attorney’s to visit.
When authorities followed Noel and and Knoller to Corning, they needed to borrow the Sichel’s fax machine in their home to attain the arrest warrants. Barbara Patton-Sichel defended the attorney’s who have come to be her friend.
”It’s sad. It’s a tragic accident that happened. They’re animal lovers and so are we. We have a lot in common,” Barbara Patton-Sichel said. ”It’s nothing they set out to do.”
Knoller and Noel will be arraigned Thursday morning in San Francisco, where they testified Tuesday afternoon before the 19-member grand jury.
A short time later, Noel and Knoller were stopped by California Highway Patrol officers near Woodland – about 95 miles northeast of San Francisco. Noel was cited for driving at more than 85 mph.
Hammer said the bail was set high partly because Knoller and Noel were arrested so far from San Francisco.
”It’s consistent with flight – one could infer that,” he said.
Knoller and Noel were caring for the two Presa Canario-mastiffs when the dogs – a 120-pound male named Bane and a 113-pound female named Hera – fatally mauled Whipple, 33, a St. Mary’s College lacrosse coach. The lawyers lived next door to the 110-pound Whipple.
The animals were raised as part of a dog-fighting ring run out of Pelican Bay State Prison by inmates Paul Schneider and Dale Bretches, prison officials said, adding that the dogs were trained to guard criminal operations such as methamphetamine labs.
Schneider and Bretches are serving life sentences without parole. Schneider is doing time for robbery and attempted murder. Bretches was convicted of murder and assault with a deadly weapon while behind bars. Both belong to the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist prison gang.
In one of the case’s many strange twists, Noel and Knoller adopted Schneider as their son in a procedure that became official just three days after Whipple’s death.
A few days later, Noel sent a letter to prosecutors blaming Whipple for the attack, suggesting she should have gone inside her apartment and not aggressively reacted to the dogs. He also accused Whipple of striking his wife as Knoller tried to pull the dogs away.
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