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Dog owner describes fatal attack on neighbor


LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- The San Francisco woman standing trial with her husband because their dogs mauled a neighbor to death described in detail the fatal attack to jurors Monday, and implied the neighbor's actions incited the dog.

Marjorie Knoller, who was with the two, large Presa Canario dogs when they attacked Diane Whipple, 33, is charged with second-degree murder. She and her husband, Robert Noel, are charged with involuntary manslaughter and keeping a mischievous animal that killed a human being.

When Knoller took the stand for the first time Monday, her attorney Nedra Ruiz asked her: "How are you feeling today?"

"I'm feeling awful, just thinking about the horrible way Ms. Whipple died in that hallway caused me great sorrow. I'm in pain for everyone who knew her. My heart goes out to her family and friends," Knoller replied.

Indictment: People v. Knoller and Noel (FindLaw document, PDF format)

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She then burst into tears and said Whipple "died a horrible death."

Whipple was returning to her apartment January 26, 2001, carrying groceries, when the two dogs, Bane and Hera, attacked.

The dogs each weighed more than 100 pounds.

In six hours of testimony Monday, Knoller said she had not heavily researched the breed before getting them. She said she knew the dogs were protective, loyal to their owners and had a history of being aggressive, but she thought their temperament would be placid.

Prosecutors alleged that Knoller and Noel, both attorneys, operated a kennel called "Dog of War" with two state prisoners.

Several neighbors have testified that they had complained to the couple that the dogs were aggressive.

In afternoon testimony, Knoller described the attack in detail. The 46-year-old lawyer said she had taken Bane, the male, in an elevator from their sixth-floor apartment to the roof, where he relieved himself.

When they returned, they had begun to enter the apartment when Hera, the female and the smaller of the two, began barking.

At that point, she said, Bane backed across the threshold, turned around and spotted Whipple, who was holding groceries at her apartment door, which was also open.

Bane then moved toward Whipple, though Knoller said she yelled and yanked the leash in a fruitless attempt to restrain him. "I was trying to get him to respond to my command. I was using all the strength in my body. He was determined. He pulled me off my feet, and ran down the hallway."

Knoller said the 120-pound Bane dragged her across the floor and leapt onto Whipple, who weighed 100 pounds, Knoller said.

"I recall feeling this was not a good situation," she added. "I remember pushing Miss Whipple with my right hand into her apartment. We fell face down.

"I said, 'Stay down, don't move.' "

Asked why she did not call 911, she said, "I couldn't control the dog, and I wasn't going to leave Miss Whipple."

Knoller said as she then tried to pull Bane from her neighbor's apartment, Whipple moved toward the doorway and re-entered the hall.

At that point, she said, "He lunges and started to tear at her clothing. I put my body on Miss Whipple and said, 'Don't move.'

"I was trying to move away on my knees. He was pulling me and tearing at her clothing. The only thing I could think to do is place my body between Bane and Miss Whipple."

At one point, "in the process of her wanting me to get off of her, she struck me," Knoller testified. "Bane then bit her on the neck. That's the first time I saw blood."

Knoller said she told Whipple to stay down, that her dog was only trying to protect her.

Bane bit Whipple on her hand, arms, left shoulder, back and chest. As Knoller tried to protect her neighbor, the dog bit her, too, she said, though not as ferociously.

But his attacks on Whipple were unrelenting, Knoller said. "He wouldn't quit." Soon, the neighbor was bleeding profusely.

Whipple's clothes were ripped from her body in the attack. Prosecutors said she died of blood loss and asphyxiation after her trachea was crushed.

Animal control officers have destroyed both dogs.

Knoller's testimony is slated to continue Tuesday. Prosecutor Jim Hammer said he "looks forward to cross-examining Ms. Knoller." He said he wants to ask her about 30 past incidents in which people said the dogs were aggressive toward them.

-- CNN Correspondent Thelma Gutierrez contributed to this report.




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