Couple pleads innocent to dog mauling death charges
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The couple indicted in the dog mauling death of their neighbor pleaded innocent Tuesday.
Marjorie Knoller, 45, and Robert Noel, 59, who remain jailed, briefly appeared in San Francisco County Superior Court, where they were wearing orange jail smocks.
Knoller faces second-degree murder charges in the Jan. 26 mauling death of 33-year-old Diane Whipple because she was in the apartment hallway with the two dogs when they attacked. Both husband and wife face charges of involuntary manslaughter and keeping a mischievous dog that killed a human being.
The two said they were keeping the dog for a Pelican Bay State Prison inmate who the couple have adopted. Authorities said the inmate was running an underground dog-breeding program to produce violent dogs.
Jan Lecklikner, the public defender representing Knoller, asked Judge Philip Moscone to reduce the charges to mischievous dog charges, but he declined Tuesday.
No trial date has been set.
In a related development, the judge postponed a hearing on the media’s request to unseal transcripts of the secret grand jury proceedings that led to the couple’s March indictment.
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 – mauled Whipple, the St. Mary’s College lacrosse coach. The lawyers lived next door to the 110-pound Whipple.
The animals were raised as part of a dogfighting 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.
Days after the mauling, 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.
Noel also speculated in his letter to prosecutors that the attack may have been brought on by pheromone-based cosmetics Whipple might have been wearing, or that the lacrosse coach may have used steroids that could have attracted the dogs.
The cases are People v. Knoller, 181813 and People v. Noel, 1977360.
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