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Owner gets four years in dog mauling

'Most despised couple in this city'

Robert Noel
Robert Noel  

SAN FRANCISCO, California (CNN) -- Robert Noel was sentenced Monday to four years in state prison for his role in the mauling death of his neighbor by his dogs.

Sentencing for his wife, Marjorie Knoller, was delayed after the judge threw out her second-degree murder conviction. The ruling prompted outcries from the victim's family and friends.

Superior Court Judge James Warren said he gave Noel the maximum sentence for the involuntary manslaughter charge because Noel lied under oath to a grand jury.

Including time served and time off for good conduct, Noel, 60, will serve 672 days, or less than two years, the judge said.

Knoller, 46, had faced a mandatory sentence of 15 years to life in prison, but the judge's decision means she would face a maximum of four years. Her sentencing has been delayed until mid-July.

CNN's Anne McDermott reports a judge threw out the second degree murder conviction against Marjorie Knoller for the dog mauling death of Diane Whipple (June 17)

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Judge's ruling
California state law requires that to support a second-degree murder conviction a pet's owner must know the animal had a high probability of killing someone.

In throwing out the second-degree murder conviction against Marjorie Knoller, Judge James Warren said there was not enough evidence she had such knowledge.

Warren also said that Robert Noel, Knoller's husband and co-defendant, did not face a similar charge and he was more culpable than the wife, in the judge's view.

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

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The couple were convicted in the death of Diane Whipple, 33, who was mauled to death January 26, 2001, as she returned home from a trip to a grocery store. The attack occurred in the hallway of her apartment building.

Knoller said one of the dogs dragged her down the hallway as she tried in vain to stop the attack. Noel was not present at the time of the attack.

In denying Noel's request for probation, Warren said he did not accept the defense argument that the defendant's absence from the hallway during the attack exonerated him.

Noel must have known that his dog was a "canine time bomb that would at some point explode, with disastrous consequences," Warren said.

Noel knew that Knoller was not able to control the dogs, the judge said.

'I don't believe that anybody likes you'

Warren said the March convictions on charges of involuntary manslaughter and keeping a mischievous animal that kills were valid for both Knoller and Noel. He called their actions "despicable."

However, the judge granted a motion for a new trial on Knoller's second-degree murder conviction. Prosecutor James Hammer said he would file a motion for the judge to reconsider his decision.

Commenting on public reaction to the trial, Warren called Knoller and Noel "the most despised couple in this city" and pointed out what he considered the couple's lack of remorse about the fatal attack of neighbor Whipple.

"I don't believe that anybody likes you," Warren said. But he said the evidence did not support a second-degree murder conviction as defined by state law.

In addition to serving his prison sentence, Noel must pay $5,000 to a victims' indemnity fund and he and his wife must pay $6,800 restitution to the family of Whipple.

'Too busy being lawyers to be human'

Whipple's domestic partner, Sharon Smith, wept as the judge announced his decision.

"Justice was done, and now I feel that justice has been undone," Smith said outside the court.

Smith also delivered a victim-impact statement inside the courtroom, and she called on the judge to impose the maximum sentence of four years for both Knoller and Noel.

"To aggravate my pain neither of you could say you were sorry, you were too busy being lawyers to be human. ... Even as Diane lay dying in the hospital, you began your lies, lies that included blaming her for her own death."
— Sharon Smith
Whipple's partner

She said the couple never expressed any sorrow to her and said the two tried to blame Whipple for the attack.

"You were too busy being lawyers to be human," she said in comments addressed to them. "You fail to accept that your actions killed a person."

Other family members and friends of Whipple's also spoke. Each expressed shock with the judge's decision.

Knoller and Noel maintained the death of Whipple was a tragic accident, but jurors in March rejected their claim.

The jurors concluded the couple ignored repeated incidents and warnings involving their two large Presa Canarios dogs, Bane and Hera. Dogs of the breed are large and often used as guards.

Knoller's attorney argued to Warren there was never enough evidence to merit a murder case against Knoller and asked for a new trial. Noel's attorney argued Warren made errors that warranted a new trial.

The five-week trial, moved to Los Angeles because of pre-trial publicity, gripped much of the nation as prosecutors described a horrific attack in which Whipple was bitten all over her body -- her throat ripped, her clothes torn off -- by one of the dogs.




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