Neighbor heard shrieks of 'Help me!' as dog attack began
LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- A woman who witnessed the dog mauling of Diane Whipple through the peephole of her apartment door testified Wednesday she heard the woman shrieking "Help me! Help me!" as neighbors' dogs savagely attacked her.
"It sounded panic-stricken, quite loud," Esther Birkmaier, 76, told the court in the trial of Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller, the married couple who owned the dogs and who are on trial for the death of the 33-year-old Whipple.
Wednesday's testimony was some of the most gripping since the trial began last week, with emergency personnel and police officers describing the scene when they first arrived shortly after 4 p.m. on January 26, 2001.
A picture displayed to jurors showed Whipple's clothing, including a knit sweater, so shredded it looked like gauze pads. Police officer Sidney Laws said the dogs had torn through the clothing so extensively that Whipple was "totally nude" when officers arrived.
"She had multiple dog bite wounds over most of her body," Laws said, adding that Whipple was still trying to "get up and crawl."
The emergency personnel described Knoller, who was with the dogs when they attacked Whipple, as covered in blood, but with no visible injuries.
Birkmaier recalled hearing the dogs barking loudly and thinking, "The dogs are loud today." She then heard Whipple's cries for help.
"I got up from the table, walked to the door, looked out the peephole and I saw a body on the floor," she said. "I saw a dark shadow that looked like a dog [on top of the body]."
She went to dial 9-1-1 when she heard Knoller urging the dogs to stop in a "loud and shrill" voice.
"I heard a voice, I heard barking, and I heard someone yelling commands," Birkmaier said.
The barking continued for a little bit. "Finally, the barking stopped, the growling stopped, and there was silence," she said.
Birkmaier called 9-1-1 again.
Michael Scott, an animal control officer, described seeing blood-splattered walls and floors in the apartment building's hallway. "The scene was horrific," he said.
The dogs were in a bathroom and the bedroom of Knoller and Noel's apartment by then, he said.
He fired three tranquilizers into the dog in the bathroom, yet it had no effect. The dog in the bedroom was so vicious it was "making crashing sounds at the doorway."
"The dog was impacting the door by bashing it," Scott said. "I was worried the door wouldn't hold up."
A police officer with a machine gun and another with a pistol stood by as animal control attempted to get the dogs out of the sixth-floor apartment and into awaiting vans, he said.
They eventually put the dogs in the vans, where the male dog, Bane, was euthanized on site. The female dog, Hera, was not but has since been put to death.
Andrea Grunge, another animal control technician, described Knoller as unusually calm after witnessing such a horrific act.
"Mrs. Knoller was oddly calm and irresponsive," Grunge said.
When animal control technicians asked her help in trying to get the dogs out of the apartment, she would not cooperate. And she would sign a euthanasia order only for Bane.
"She signed over Bane," Grunge said. "She refused to turn over Hera."
Knoller and Noel have pleaded innocent to the charges of involuntary manslaughter and keeping a mischievous animal that killed a human being.
Knoller -- who was with the two, large Presa Canario dogs during the attack on Whipple -- was also charged with second-degree murder.
Whipple, returning home with groceries, had the key in her door and one of two bags inside when the attack began.
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