Witnesses testify to previous dog encounters
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Witnesses in the San Francisco dog mauling trial testified Monday about encounters with the killer dogs as the prosecution sought to prove that the animals’ owners had plenty of warning before the fatal attack on a neighbor woman.
Three witnesses spoke of being frightened by the two massive presa canario dogs that eventually killed Diane Whipple, a 33-year-old college lacrosse coach, on Jan. 26, 2001, in a hallway outside her San Francisco apartment.
Rhea Wertman-Tallent testified about seeing the dogs become agitated by a dog across a street in their neighborhood two days before Whipple’s death.
“I saw two huge dogs and two people holding leashes. The dogs were reared up on their hind legs. Their teeth were out and they were lunging. I was trying to hurry to get away,” Wertman-Tallent said.
The dogs were “making very loud sounds, howling and growling, very frightening sounds,” she said. “I never heard sounds like that before.”
Over objections by the defense, the jury also was read portions of notes Wertman-Tallent wrote about that incident. The defense sought to keep the notes out of the trial because they were written after Whipple’s killing.
“I’ve never seen an animal so crazed before,” the witness wrote. “You knew that they wanted to kill someone.”
She also wrote, “The caretaker-owners have to be insane to want to keep these dogs in the city in an apartment.”
Defendant Marjorie Knoller, 46, who was present during the attack, is charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and having a mischievous animal that killed a human being. Her husband, Robert Noel, 60, faces the latter two charges.
The trial was moved to Los Angeles due to extensive publicity in San Francisco.
A professional dog-walker, Abraham Taylor, said he encountered the defendants in an incident where one dog broke loose and charged him and the dog he was walking.
He said he acted quickly to put the dog he was walking behind him and forced the charging dog to the ground.
The next day, he said, he encountered Noel in an elevator and the defendant talked about getting a third dog. He quoted Noel as saying, “It’s tough enough having two. Can you imagine owning three?”
Skip Cooley, who lived next door to the defendants, testified that one once lunged at him as he got out of an elevator.
He said he also lodged a complaint with the apartment manager that the dogs were making noise during the night, keeping him and his wife awake with barking and scraping of claws on bare wood floors.
He said he wrote a note to the manager that said, “These dogs are a menace.”
He also said the dogs, Bane and Hera, were somewhat docile when he was alone, but when his wife was with him, they became “attentive” toward her. He said the dogs weighed more than does his 5-foot-tall wife.
Both dogs, which each weighed more than 100 pounds, were destroyed.
Testimony has been under way since Feb. 19.