Prosecution Rests In Dog Attack Trial

Artist's sketch of Marjorie Knoller, 46, right, and her husband, Robert Noel.
The prosecution rested Monday in the San Francisco dog mauling case after showing detailed photos of the victim's wounds and a TV interview in which a defendant blamed the dead woman.

The prosecution's case included 39 witnesses, many of whom told of terrifying encounters with two presa canario dogs, Bane and Hera, kept by defendants Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel in an apartment in San Francisco.

Diane Whipple, 33, a college lacrosse coach, was killed Jan. 26, 2001. Knoller alone faces a second-degree murder charge. She and her husband are also charged with involuntary manslaughter and having a mischievous dog that killed a person.

Moments after Assistant District Attorney Jim Hammer rested his case, the defense moved for dismissal on grounds of insufficient evidence.

Hammer, in a heated response, said, "To leave a woman to die alone in a hall, naked, while she's crawling to get home, is the coldest act I can imagine and is evidence of her cold, depraved heart."

Superior Court Judge James Warren denied the motion, saying that if the jury were to find the defendants guilty, an appeals court would find there was ample evidence to convict them.

The prosecution's final testimony included a coroner who compared the attack to the killing technique wild predators use on prey, a reading of Noel's grand jury testimony and a TV interview of the defendants on ABC's "Good Morning America."

In the interview, Knoller said Bane merely "became interested" in Whipple, who was returning from a grocery store, as she stood in the hall outside her apartment.

"He wasn't making aggressive moves," Knoller said. "He was just really, really interested. I don't know if there was something in the grocery bags or something about Miss Whipple."

She claimed she threw herself on Whipple to shield her.

Asked if she bore any responsibility for the attack, Knoller said no.

"Miss Whipple had ample opportunity to shut the door of her apartment," Knoller said. "She should have just slammed the door shut. I would have."

The prosecutors also read to jurors excerpts from Noel's grand jury testimony in which he acknowledged writing a letter saying Whipple feared the dogs.

Outside court, defense attorney Nedra Ruiz said the defense would call some 30 witnesses beginning Tuesday to tell jurors about positive encounters with the dogs.

"The vast majority of folks had no problem with the dogs," she told reporters.

Ruiz said she would stress in her final statement that Knoller tried to save Whipple.

"I think the jury is going to find that Marjorie acted heroically," Ruiz said.

Much of the day was spent on gruesome testimony about Whipple's wounds, including enlarged photographs that drove many spectators out of the courtroom.

Dr. Boyd Stephens, chief medical examiner for San Francisco, said one of the dogs seized and crushed Whipple's larynx to asphyxiate her.

"It's not uncommon for a carnivore to go for the neck," Stephens said. "A lion or a leopard — they go for the throat."

Stephens said all surfaces of Whipple's body except the soles of her feet and the top of her head were covered with wounds.

The witness said the damage to Whipple's larynx, combined with loss of more than a third of her blood, made it unlikely that medical intervention could have saved her.

On cross-examination, Ruiz tried to show that police were negligent in not immediately trying to stem the blood flow.

Stephens said direct pressure to the wounds could have been of some help, but said it was unlikely Whipple would have survived.

By Linda Deutsch