from SFGATE.COM (San Francisco Chronicle)

    Published Wednesday, January 31, 2001

S.F. Lawyers Adopt Con Who Bred Killer Dog

Action by animal's keepers stuns state corrections officials

Jaxon Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer

                 In a bizarre twist, the attorneys whose Presa
                 Canario dog mauled a San Francisco woman to
                 death have adopted the Pelican bay inmate prison
                 officials say bred that dog and others as attack

                 Robert Noel, 59, and Marjorie Knoller, 45, who
                 had been keeping the dog when it attacked Diane
                 Whipple at their Pacific Heights apartment building,
                 were granted an adoption decree Monday by San
                 Francisco family court. The decree makes them
                 parents of 38-year-old inmate Paul John "Cornfed"
                 Schneider, who is serving time for aggravated
                 assault and attempted murder. 

                 Authorities were stunned yesterday to hear that the
                 attorneys had adopted the inmate. 

                 "We're a little puzzled about this, that is pretty much
                 our reaction," said Russ Heimerich, spokesman for
                 the state Department of Corrections. 

                 Noel, who along with Knoller is being investigated
                 by San Francisco police in the fatal dog attack on
                 Whipple, said that adopting Schneider was a
                 personal decision. 

                 "Our decision was based on Mr. Schneider as a
                 person, and our feelings toward him and his feelings
                 toward us," Noel said in an interview yesterday with
                 Chronicle columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross,
                 adding, "It was not an action taken lightly." 

                 Noel said that although the adoption might sound
                 strange to some, "Mr. Schneider is definitely a man
                 of more character and integrity than most of the
                 people you're going to find in the California
                 Department of Corrections administration." 

                 Schneider, a validated member of the Aryan
                 Brotherhood prison gang incarcerated for crimes
                 including robbery, aggravated assault and attempted
                 murder, arranged to buy and care for Bane and
                 seven other Presa Canarios using intermediaries,
                 including Noel and Knoller, prison officials said. 

                 After reaching a settlement in a lawsuit last year
                 disputing the work of the dogs' caretaker, the
                 attorneys ended up with two of them -- Bane and

                 And now they have adopted the dogs' former

                 "The adoption will be in the best interest of the
                 parties and in the public interest," the decree

                 Schneider did not come to court for the adoption
                 proceeding with his "physical appearance being
                 impossible," according to the adoption decree. 

                 The adoption had been in the works for months.
                 Schneider entered into an agreement with Noel and
                 Knoller on Jan. 15 to "assume toward each other
                 the relation of parent and child, including all rights of
                 inheritance and intestate succession," the decree

                 Pelican Bay officials plan to give San Francisco
                 police their findings about the roles of Schneider
                 and fellow inmate Dale Bretches in raising Bane and
                 Hera -- also present at the time of the attack on

                 Hera's fate awaits a hearing Feb. 13, authorities

                 According to authorities, Schneider and Bretches
                 used intermediaries to raise Bane and seven other
                 dogs beginning in 1998, operating the attack-dog
                 breeding business from maximum security at Pelican
                 Bay near Crescent City. 

                 'RAISING ATTACK DOGS'

                 "They were raising attack dogs. San Francisco
                 police suspected they were going to the Mexican
                 Mafia, going to protect their drug operations,"
                 Heimerich said. "We are just not going to speculate
                 as to why." 

                 Schneider and Bretches are both serving life terms,
                 Bretches for a murder conviction. 

                 The dog operation was uncovered in October 1999
                 and by February 2000, authorities found that the
                 prisoners had violated policy by running an outside

                 The inmates enlisted an intermediary, identified in
                 court documents as Brenda Storey of Fair Oaks.
                 She arranged for Janet Coumbs of Hayfork in
                 Trinity county to care for the dogs. 

                 Coumbs said a friend encouraged her to meet the
                 inmates as an act of Christian charity. 

                 Two of the dogs came from a breeder in Chicago in
                 1998 and two more from a breeder in Ohio in
                 1999. She said she was told they were hers to raise
                 and keep, in exchange for providing photos to the
                 inmates -- both artists -- to use to draw the animals.

                 Coumbs told police yesterday that she was unable
                 to deal with the dogs. They attacked sheep,
                 chickens and her daughter's pet cat. 

                 ATTACKS QUESTIONED

                 But, Storey's husband, Russell, said yesterday that
                 Coumbs never told anyone about any attacks by the

                 ''The stuff about the dogs being killers, she never
                 mentioned that to anybody, this was the first
                 anybody has heard of that," he said. 

                 "We don't know how she treated the dogs. Our
                 main concern is with the Whipple family and with
                 Marjorie and Robert." 

                 Russell Storey said his wife signed a lawsuit asking
                 for the dogs' return as a favor to Schneider, who
                 could not file the suit because he is a prisoner. 

                 Schneider shared a cell with his wife's friend, he
                 said. She picked the first two dogs up at the airport
                 in 1998 and delivered them to Coumbs. 

                 A year later, Schneider wrote Storey about
                 suspected abuse of the dogs by Coumbs. The
                 lawsuit ensued. 

                 Coumbs denies any neglect. She informed
                 investigators yesterday that she told the lawyers the
                 dogs should be destroyed because they were
                 vicious, said San Francisco Police Lt. Henry

                 "If we can demonstrate that, we can show that they
                 should have knowledge these animals were a
                 danger; that's when we get to the gross negligence
                 and manslaughter," Hunter said. 

                 An attorney who represents the inmates on other
                 matters said there was never anything
                 "underground" about the dog operation, despite
                 what authorities said. 

                 Schneider and Bretches planned to draw the dogs
                 and were working on a Web site about their virtues,
                 said Herman Franck of Spokane, Wash. 

                 "It has been completely above ground," Franck
                 said. "How do you hide something like that? There's
                 all kinds of correspondence involved." 

                 Still, prison officials said the inmates used codes and
                 other ruses to escape detection. 

                 AGAINST RULES

                 "Obviously, it was illegal, against our department
                 rules. It was not something they would telegraph, by
                 any stretch of the imagination," said Pelican Bay
                 spokesman Lt. Ben Grundy. 

                 "We did find the inmates were in violation of our
                 policy, but the problem we encountered was that
                 the individuals that were actually doing all the
                 bidding for them, the running of the business,
                 handling the money, transferring of funds, were their
                 attorneys and people on the streets," he said. 

                 "They were outside our jurisdiction; there's nothing
                 we could do with them, " he said. 

                 The matter was referred to the FBI's Sacramento
                 office and, he said, "They came back and informed
                 us there were no criminal laws broken." 

                 Franck maintains that the dog operation was

                 "These guys wanted these dogs -- you have to
                 understand a few things about these guys, they are
                 very serious artists, they draw all kinds of animal
                 pictures, and they are very interested in animals," he

                 The inmates use everything from the red die
                 extracted from vitamin pills to scrapings from
                 magazines to color illustrations ranging from warrior
                 princesses to polar bears to jaguars, he said. But
                 their cell was covered with the dog art. 

                 "Dale and Paul were constantly trying to sell the
                 concept that these dogs can be loyal, loving pets,
                 the ultimate family dog," Franck said. "They were
                 not interested in a making a wild, killer dog. How
                 on earth, could they, inside jail, train these dogs?" 

                 SCHNEIDER SUES OFTEN

                 Along with his artwork, Schneider is also known for
                 his lawsuits. They include two failed suits alleging
                 that he was wrongly handcuffed while at an exercise
                 yard at Folsom Prison and another alleging that he
                 and Bretches were shot during a fight staged by
                 guards at Pelican Bay. 

                 Schneider and other inmates also filed a civil-rights
                 lawsuit that was upheld by the U.S. Court of
                 Appeals in San Francisco challenging the state's
                 refusal to pay interest on $10 million in inmate trust
                 accounts. The matter is still before the courts. The
                 inmates contend that the state's refusal to pay
                 interest deprives them of property without just
                 compensation under the Fifth Amendment. 

                 Meanwhile, Franck puzzled over Schneider's
                 adoption and newfound family. 

                 "The Knollers did not have kids of their own -- that
                 may be part of what this is about," he said. "That is
                 incredible. Just when you think this story can't get
                 any weirder. . . . That's pretty weird." 

E-mail Jaxon Van Derbeken at 

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