from SFGATE.COM (San Francisco Chronicle)

    Mauling Death Victim's Fault, Lawyers Say

Rambling letter to police says she placed self in harm's way

Jaxon Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer 


 The attorneys whose Presa Canario dog mauled a
                 woman to death have gone on the offensive, telling
                 authorities that the victim brought on the attack by
                 putting herself in harm's way. 

                 In letters to San Francisco prosecutors, Robert
                 Noel and Marjorie Knoller said Diane Whipple
                 placed herself in danger by repeatedly entering the
                 hallway outside her apartment, even after Knoller
                 had pushed her inside and gotten some control of
                 the attacking dog, Bane. 

                 The attorneys say that Whipple, a 33-year-old
                 college lacrosse coach, may have also been using
                 steroids or had a pheromone-based fragrance that
                 drew the dog to her. They said that experienced
                 dog trainers say such substances could provoke
                 aggressive behavior in dogs. 

                 "The presence of either of those substances would
                 also explain Ms. Whipple's behavior at the time of
                 the incident in leaving the confines and safety of her
                 apartment and coming into the hall to confront the
                 dog after Ms. Knoller had secured it," according to
                 one letter signed by Noel, demanding that police
                 preserve evidence of such substances. 

                 A resident of the building called the allegations

                 "I'm absolutely speechless," said Derek Brown,
                 who lives one floor below the attorneys. "Every time
                 they (the dogs) have crossed my path, they've gone
                 berserk and lunged at me, trying to take a chunk out
                 of me." 

                 19-PAGE LETTER

                 But Noel continued his contentions in a separate
                 19-page letter to District Attorney Terence Hallinan
                 dated and signed yesterday. In it, Noel defends the
                 dogs and explains how they came to live in Pacific

                 Noel said the dogs were originally purchased using
                 part of a $20,000 payment from a prison abuse
                 lawsuit by Pelican Bay inmate Paul John "Cornfed"
                 Schneider, who then had the dogs legally raised by

                 The lawyers officially adopted Schneider on
                 Monday, and prison officials said the couple
                 conspired with him to run an attack-dog breeding

                 Noel gave the following version of the Friday's
                 attack on Whipple: 

                 It began when Whipple, standing outside her own
                 door, stared for about a minute as Knoller tried to
                 push Bane into the attorneys' apartment after a trip
                 to the roof. 

                 Knoller struggled to force the dog into her
                 apartment, but couldn't. 

                 "When Marjorie began to tire and Bane was able to
                 overcome her efforts, Bane began going down the
                 hall dragging Marjorie, who had fallen to her knees
                 and was acting as an anchor with him," Noel said. 

                 During the ensuing struggle, Knoller said, the dog
                 accosted Whipple and Knoller forced Whipple into
                 her apartment, getting on top of the victim to keep
                 her from moving. 

                 KNOLLER CRAWLED OUT

                 Knoller told Whipple, who was uninjured at that
                 point, not to move. Knoller crawled out on her
                 knees with the dog behind. But Whipple did not
                 stay inside, Noel said. 

                 "Marjorie has no idea why Ms. Whipple, rather
                 than remaining in her apartment and closing the door
                 came out into the hall and toward Marjorie and
                 Bane," Noel said in the letter. 

                 Whipple continued toward the dog, Knoller
                 attempted to restrain her and then the dog bit

                 Knoller then said, "Don't move, he's trying to
                 protect me" to Whipple. Whipple then struck
                 Knoller in the right eye, the letter states. 

                 "When Ms. Whipple struck Marjorie in the face,
                 Bane moved forward and made contact with Ms.
                 Whipple's neck and throat," according to the letter. 

                 The dogs -- a second named Hera was present as
                 well -- were eventually corralled, but the letter said
                 Whipple lay bleeding for five to seven minutes, even
                 after SWAT officers had arrived and the dogs were

                 Police said the letter contrasts with Marjorie
                 Knoller's earlier account to police that the dogs
                 bolted and Bane attacked the woman as she
                 returned to her apartment Friday after grocery

                 "She said the female started barking, the male dog
                 dragged Knoller and attacked," said Lt. Henry
                 Hunter of the San Francisco police. "They are
                 saying she (Whipple) is acting very macho, when in
                 fact she lives in fear of the dog." 

                 Police confirmed yesterday that Whipple had
                 previously been bitten by one of the lawyers' dogs,
                 a contention that Noel disputes. 

                 After Friday's fatal attack, Bane was destroyed by
                 animal control officers. Noel and Knoller want his
                 brain preserved to see if there was any malady that
                 might have provoked his behavior. Hera awaits a
                 vicious dog hearing Feb. 13. 

                 LEGAL MANEUVER?

                 The assertion by the attorneys that Whipple may
                 have attracted the dogs' ire could be the first step in
                 mounting a defense under the state's fighting dogs
                 statute. The statute requires that the victim cannot
                 have promoted the attack. 

                 Police said they now have several statements from
                 witnesses who were afraid of the dogs. They also
                 have a statement from Whipple's roommate that the
                 victim had been bitten by one of them two weeks
                 before she was killed and was afraid of them. 

                 Noel said yesterday that he was never informed of
                 any previous attacks by his dogs on Whipple or
                 anyone else. 

                 "There were only three encounters with her, she
                 never complained to me, we saw her three times,
                 each time getting on and off the elevator," he said,
                 adding that he had not heard any complaints from
                 the apartment management either. 

                 Hallinan said that the investigation is far from
                 complete but that the facts suggest charges might be
                 lodged against Bane's owners, based on the
                 information that has come to light. 

                 BREAK IN THE CASE

                 Hallinan said the fact that Noel and Knoller have
                 legally adopted Schneider, one of two Pelican Bay       inmates     authorities say once
                 secretly owned the dogs, was a break in the

                 "I feel we're beginning to approach a prosecutorial
                 case," Hallinan said. "This adoption thing really was
                 kind of a mind-boggler." 

                 "In a sense, I believe it helps our case. It does
                 certainly imply they had a close relationship -- they
                 would have known pretty well what these convicts
                 were up to." 

                 As for Schneider's adoption, Noel called him "a
                 man of honor, integrity and intelligence" who has
                 only one family member and so they decided to
                 form a "family unit." 

                 ". . . We, as Mr. Schneider's parents have greater
                 ability to protect him from a long string of abuses to
                 which CDC (the state Department of Corrections)
                 has subjected him."

                 E-mail Jaxon Van Derbeken at

©2001 San Francisco Chronicle   Page A20 

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