Death Victim's Fault, Lawyers Say
Rambling letter to police
says she placed self in harm's way
Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer
The attorneys whose Presa Canario dog mauled
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
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.
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
"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
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