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CNN CROSSFIRE

Should Owners of Killer Dogs be Guilty of Murder?

Aired March 20, 2002 - 19:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Tonight, as the jury reaches a verdict in the dog mauling case, are the owners of the killer dogs guilty of murder? And then, today is the great American meatout. Did you skip your steak today?

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Tucker Carlson. In the crossfire, Nedra Ruiz, attorney for Marjorie Knoller; and Michael Cardoza, attorney for the dog mauling victim's domestic partner, Sharon Smith. And later, Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

CARLSON: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

They've reached a verdict. Tonight, the jury in the San Francisco dog mauling case has come to a conclusion on four of the five charges stemming from the death of 33-year-old Diane Whipple. Whipple bled to death last year, after being attacked by her neighbors' dogs. Now those neighbors are facing charges of homicide.

The verdicts are expected to be read in court tomorrow. For now, almost no one disputes that the dog owners were negligent or that their story is in parts sensational, sordid, even sick. But did they commit murder? That's the question gripping San Francisco tonight and it's also our first debate.

Bill Press?

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Ms. Ruiz, thank you so much for joining us.

NEDRA RUIZ, ATTY. FOR MARJORIE KNOLLER: You're welcome.

PRESS: Now I have kids and I have pets. And I certainly agree that we can't all be held responsible for things that our kids or our pets may do, unless there's been sufficient warning.

You know, in his opening statement, prosecutor Jim Hammer told the jury that there were over 30 warnings that Ms. Knoller and Mr. Noel were given about their dogs. One of those warnings and complaints coming from the woman who was killed, Diane Whipple. And there was even a letter written by a veterinarian, who said these dogs are a menace and should not be in the city of San Francisco.

In this case, clearly they know they had a problem, they did nothing about it. They are responsible. Right? RUIZ: They acted responsibly throughout their ownership of these dogs. They leashed the dogs. They trained the dogs. They took the dogs to veterinarians and animal healthcare professionals and were at all times assured that these were nonaggressive, nonviolent, nonvicious dogs.

These dogs were never trained to be vicious. They were never bred to be vicious. They were responsibly maintained. So responsibly maintained, that not a single person at 2398 Pacific ever complained about the dogs, not even Sharon Smith.

The vast majority of the persons who came forward, former tenants of 2398 Pacific, the vast majority of those witnesses never had physical contact with these dogs because the dogs were so well controlled by Marjorie and Robert. And it is our contention, and has been throughout, that these dogs, because no one complained about them, because the instances where witnesses did come forward the witnesses themselves admitted the dogs never touched them, that Marjorie and Robert never had notice that these dogs would get loose to cause great bodily injury.

PRESS: Wait, wait.

RUIZ: Or kill.

PRESS: Wait a minute. They killed a woman. There were people ahead of time who said...

RUIZ: But did they have notice, sir? They had no notice.

PRESS: Let me finish my question.

RUIZ: They had no notice.

PRESS: Why did the -- let me finish my question, please.

RUIZ: When someone has no notice, it is unfair and unjust to send them to prison for life.

PRESS: Ms. Ruiz, I'm going to treat you like the judge did, you know, who warned you today that you were going to be put in a holding cell if you did...

RUIZ: You know, that would be illegal. The judge...

PRESS: ...if you didn't let him finish. So let me finish, if I can. Why would the...

RUIZ: The judge was absolutely acting illegally when he told me to sit down and not question the district attorney's misstatements on the record. And...

PRESS: Well you're not acting illegally tonight, but may I please ask you to let me ask the question? Why did the veterinarian say these dogs were dangerous and didn't belong in the city if they were so well behaved. And if they were always on a leash, why weren't they on a leash that day that they killed Diane Whipple?

RUIZ: Dr. Martin never said these dogs were dangerous. He merely opined that in their present condition as they were living, as they were kept at Hayfort, all eight of them, some of them on a chain, in kennels, pens outside exposed to all weathers and unsocialized and untrained that in that condition, they were a liability. And what Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel did was when they went to gather up the dogs, they had professional dog trainers with them to evaluate the dogs.

CARLSON: OK, Mr. Cardoza...

RUIZ: This isn't a situation...

CARLSON: OK, I'm sorry to cut you off there, but I have to jump in on the other side. Mr. Cardoza, thanks for joining us.

MICHAEL CARDOZA, ATTY. FOR SHARON SMITH: Sure.

CARLSON: Now this is obviously a horrifying story all the way around. It's a tragedy, the death of Diane Whipple.

CARDOZA: There's no question about it.

CARLSON: That's right, the personal lives of the defendants are creepy. I think we can all agree on that. So there's no defending those elements of it. But I think we can all be honest here and admit it's not murder. The dog owner comes out of her apartment with the dog. She has no idea the dog is going to kill this woman. It's really the equivalent of someone coming out with a loaded gun, the hand gun falls on the floor, fires, and kills a person.

CARDOZA: No, it's not.

CARLSON: It's sad, it's tragic, and maybe negligent, but it's not murder.

CARDOZA: No, it's not. You're absolutely wrong. You know, they have four of the five verdicts. I assume they are now -- they're going to come back tomorrow. And I assume they're going to be talking about whether it's a second degree or not. So certainly that question will be answered tomorrow.

But second degree, yes, it is, because there were 34 instances where these dogs had gone after other people or other animals. And Noel and Knoller knew about that. Ms. Ruiz when she said gosh, they stopped them from biting other people. Remember, they lunged at a pregnant woman. Had he not been fast enough to stop them that day, there would be a dead fetus right now and probably a dead mother. There'd be a dead six-year old boy.

CARLSON: Wait a second.

CARDOZA: They were on notice of that.

CARLSON: Mr. Cardoza, now you make reference as a lot of people do, to these, you know, 30-some-odd reports of the dogs' behavior.

CARDOZA: Right.

CARLSON: But how many reports were filed with the police? None. Animal control? None.

CARDOZA: OK. Let's talk about that.

CARLSON: I mean, you say reports, but are they really reports? Nobody notified the authorities of these dogs' aggressive behavior.

CARDOZA: They don't have to notify the authorities. Let's talk about that. A dog almost bites you, almost bites one of your children? You report that to the police? I was a district attorney for over 13 years. I've tried over 30 homicides, both as a defense attorney and as a prosecutor. I know what happens. You report that to the police, the police go wait a minute. "You're telling me you were almost bitten. Thanks for the report and see you later."

CARLSON: Now wait, Mr. Cardoza, you can blame the police, if you like, but the fact is...

CARDOZA: I'm not blaming the police.

CARLSON: People believe these dogs were a threat to human life, somebody it stands to reason, would've reported it, correct?

RUIZA: These people didn't even phone their -- these people didn't phone the building manager.

CARDOZA: Go ahead, Nedra, keep going. This is like court. They're you go again. Here is what Noel and Knoller knew.

RUIZ: These people didn't even tell the building manager.

CARDOZA: They knew of all the people in the world that there were instances...

RUIZ: How could they know if people didn't complain to them?

CARDOZA: Nedra, they were there, that's how they knew. I know that you might...

RUIZ: They were there restraining the dogs.

CARDOZA: You're right, they were restraining the dog, which put them on notice.

PRESS: Hey, counsels, counsels, order in the court and on the show.

Ms. Ruiz, my question to you, I talked to you before about the behavior of the dog owners, which I think was irresponsible before this attack. I want to ask you about their -- the behavior of Ms. Knoller right after the attack. And I want to read, if I may, from Jim Hammer, the prosecutor's closing arguments the other day. He said, "This much is clear -- after Diane had been ripped to death from head to toe, every piece of clothing ripped from her body, that woman, Ms. Knoller, left her alone in the hallway. When police arrived, one of the dogs was running down the hall with a naked Diane Whipple." Again, how can you say these are responsible people? They didn't take care of the dogs before the attack and they didn't take the proper actions after the attack.

RUIZ: I'll tell you why Marjorie is responsible. Because when the dogs attacked poor Diane, Marjorie threw her body on top of Diane to try and protect her from the dogs. That's how responsible Marjorie was.

PRESS: Wait a minute. But then she walked away and left Diane Whipple bleeding to death on the floor.

RUIZ: She had to put the dogs away. She had to take the dogs away. She had to take the -- she was in the process of taking the dogs away from Diane so they wouldn't do her more harm when the police came. She -- the only reason, and she testified to this at the grand jury.

CARLSON: Now Michael Cardoza, I can hear you mumbling there.

CARDOZA: Yes, I'm mumbling.

CARLSON: Defend yourself against what she's saying.

CARDOZA: I don't have to defend myself against what she's saying. When she talks about...

PRESS: One at a time. Go ahead, Michael.

CARDOZA: All right, when she talks about Ms. Knoller being on top. Think about that. Have you ever seen a dog go after even another dog? And then to say that Marjorie's on top with two or three little dinky bites? No. Diane ended up with over 70 bites on her body, one of which ripped her larynx out. And you meant to tell me Ms. Knoller was on her? Common sense. It defies common sense. And Ms. Ruiz knows that. You know that.

RUIZ: Of course it does not. Dogs can focus their anger on a target.

CARLSON: Now Mr. Cardoza...

CARDOZA: I can't hear you over her. I can't hear you over her.

RUIZ: Dogs can focus their anger on a target and poor Diane Whipple was the target of this dog's anger.

CARDOZA: And you wonder why the judge had problems during this trial.

CARLSON: Let me ask you a question here. I think you could -- you possibly make a case that Marjorie Knoller deserves to face serious charges, but Robert Noel was not even in town when this happened. So to extend the gun analogy, it's as if his wife takes the gun outside, it goes off.

CARDOZA: No, it's not. That's a bad analogy.

CARLSON: Well, how is it a bad analogy? He is not even there when this occurred. Why is he responsible for her death?

CARDOZA: I tell you how it's a bad analogy. Those dogs were vicious dogs. Those two people knew that. Yet they kept them in a 600 to 800 square-foot apartment, pent-up. Any dog owner knows you get home, that dog's going to be wound tighter than a spring.

RUIZ: Those dogs got exercised every day, two or three walks a day.

PRESS: Please let him finish, OK? Then you can jump in.

RUIZ: They weren't vicious.

CARDOZA: Nedra, you know why the judge had problems with you. And this is your defense, this incessant rambling.

RUIZ: These people complained about these dogs snoring. You mean to tell me that if the dogs were vicious, they wouldn't complain?

CARDOZA: Nedra, all these just lead people down a path that you shouldn't lead them down. Face the facts here. The jury's done it. The jury has a verdict, four out of five. And I think you know what those four verdicts are. There's one left. And they're probably thinking about second degree. They need overnight to think to themselves, to talk tomorrow. Nedra, you know what the verdict will be.

RUIZ: It's an outrageous tragedy that has resulted in a long incarceration for Marjorie. And now she faces a...

CARDOZA: Longer incarceration hopefully. Yes, she will, when she's convicted of this...

RUIZ: She could face a life sentence for a tragic accident that she attempted to prevent.

CARDOZA: Fifteen to life. You're absolutely right. That's what she's facing.

PRESS: Both counsels, if I may, please, interrupt. We told you earlier we were going to move now to talk to the head of PETA about great meatout day. Obviously, this is an important case. This is breaking news. We want to stay with us. The two attorneys have agreed to stay with us. We'll bring you the interview with Ingrid Newkirk tomorrow.

But meanwhile, let's continue with our debate. Are dog owners responsible for the brutality committed by their animals? Is second degree murder a proper charge? And are the attorneys in the case maybe responsible for what the final verdict may be? We'll be right back with more CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: CROSSFIRE, round two. The verdict is in, but not yet out. A California jury has reached a verdict in the case of a California couple from San Francisco whose dogs mauled and killed a neighbor. The verdict's expected to be announced tomorrow, but we're not waiting. We're debating the case right now with two key attorneys in the case.

First, attorney Nedra Ruiz, who is representing dog owner Marjorie Knoller and attorney Michael Cardoza, who is representing Sharon Smith, the domestic partner of the victim, Diane Whipple.

Tucker?

CARLSON: Mr. Cardoza, in every story like this there's a financial angle. And in this story, here it is, spelled right out in "The Los Angeles Times." You are quoted as saying you plan to sue the landlords of the building. They have a policy of between $2 million and $4 million. Your quote is "There's insurance here and we plan to go after it." Pinata party.

CARDOZA: That wasn't quite my quote, but we are suing the landlord, not we're going to. We have filed the lawsuit. Now keep in mind, I understand the angle that you're going for to make it look like Sharon is after money. Sharon has publicly stated whatever money comes from this goes into the Diane Alexis Whipple Foundation to be given away to colleges...

RUIZ: How much money will you take out of the Diane Whipple...

CARLSON: Wait, Ms. Ruiz, let me just follow-up this question here.

CARDOZA: I will be paid just like you are, Nedra. There's no hiding that. Of course I'll be paid. I'm an attorney. I do it for a living. Just as these anchors are being paid, just as you're being paid for the defense. I'm not ashamed of that. Go ahead, please.

CARLSON: Well, let me ask you. I mean why -- and wherever the money goes, I mean, people always say, I'm putting the money in a foundation and whether it gets there is an entirely different question as you well know.

CARDOZA: It will get there.

CARLSON: But my question to you is, why should the landlord...

RUIZ: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARLSON: I beg your pardon, Ms. Ruiz.

CARDOZA: There you go again.

CARLSON: I'm becoming more sympathetic to the judge every moment. But in any case, why should the landlord pay a dime? Why should the insurance company pay a dime? If you say, and you have said that the dog owners are responsible for Ms. Whipple's death, what exactly does a landlord's insurance company have to do with any of this?

CARDOZA: Well, I'll tell you. The landlord allowed those two dogs, knowing that they were in the apartment, to remain in the apartment. You had over 240 pounds of Presa Canarios there. The sheer size of the dog alone are like human beings. Four people in the sense living in an 800 square foot apartment.

RUIZ: Too bad Sharon didn't complain. You'd have a stronger case.

CARDOZA: Nedra, I'd love you to substitute in on the civil case so you could defense the landlord. In fact, I encourage that for you, please.

PRESS: Nedra Ruiz, let me ask you, I believe, first of all...

RUIZ: Well, you know, Mr. Cardoza's obviously going after the deep, deep pocket. He knows that Marjorie and Robert have no money at all. Poor Marjorie's parents have had to raid their retirement pension to pay for my services. Mr. Noel is -- Mr. Noel has public appointed counsel.

PRESS: Ms. Ruiz...

CARDOZA: I think you're getting a taste of how the judge felt.

PRESS: Ms. Ruiz, right, Ms. Ruiz?

RUIZ: I understand how Mr. Cardoza would go after a very deep pocket in this matter.

PRESS: All right, you've made your point. I want to move on, please. I think anything goes in a trial. Anything goes on CROSSFIRE.

But today, I really thing you went over the line. In your closing statements, whenever it was, not today, you suggested that the prosecutor only brought this case because Ms. Whipple is a lesbian and they were trying the city to curry favor with San Francisco's gay community. Isn't that the most despicable thing an attorney could do and shame on you. How do you defend that?

RUIZ: After this tragedy occurred, Marjorie and Robert were not arrested because an inspector named Becker concluded, after talking to the chief medical examiner, that it was a tragic accident. Now as the weeks passed, in fact, all of February, many of Diane Whipple's friends became very concerned that because she was gay, no prosecution would be undertaken.

CARDOZA: That's not true.

RUIZ: And they began to picket 2398 Pacific. And Sharon Smith carried a sign around saying, "It's murder."

CARDOZA: Not true, Nedra. You know it.

RUIZ: No, she's been on videotape saying that this is murder.

CARDOZA: That's correct, certainly she said that. She hasn't picketed, nor have her friends.

RUIZ: She is hardly disinterested. She is incredibly biased and she lied before the grand jury and she lied at trial.

PRESS: Ms. Ruiz...

CARDOZA: There you go again.

PRESS: Ms. Ruiz, you, if I may, you're just avoiding the basic facts in the case. Whether she was lesbian or straight, she was killed by the dogs. Right? It has nothing to do with whether she's gay. Why did you introduce that -- her lesbianness or that gayness into the trial today?

RUIZ: Because my client's bail was set at $2 million. And it's incredibly excessive. And it was a result of the political pressure brought to bear by the gay community in San Francisco.

CARLSON: OK, now...

CARDOZA: Please, Nedra, please.

RUIZ: That's why. That's why. There's absolutely no reason for my client to have a $1 million bail. And it's absolutely unbelievable that a person with no criminal history, involved in the criminal justice system for the very first time, because of what a dog did...

CARDOZA: And involved with the Aryan brotherhood, pointing out where they could find people to kill. Please, Nedra.

CARLSON: OK, Mr. Cardoza.

RUIZ: There's no evidence of that. None whatsoever.

CARLSON: Now Mr. Cardoza, in the 30 seconds we have left. Ms. Ruiz, please. One last very quick question, is there any evidence at all that either of the dog owners sought to harm, intentionally wanted to harm Diane Whipple?

CARDOZA: They don't have to intentionally. That's not an element of the case.

CARLSON: So no is the answer?

CARDOZA: That's an element of the case. Second degree murder.

RUIZ: That's a big no.

CARDOZA: No is the answer. No, it's a big no. But they don't need intent to kill for second degree murder. As you know, Nedra, if you understand the law. I understand this is your first murder trial. That's the law.

RUIZ: They need notice that these dogs will do serious injury or death.

CARDOZA: Nedra, pay attention to the law, please.

RUIZ: And they didn't have that notice.

CARDOZA: Please, Nedra.

RUIZ: Marjorie shouldn't go to jail for life.

PRESS: Time-out.

CARLSON: Time-out, that's right, Nedra Ruiz, Michael Cardoza, you make a fantastic pair. And we're grateful to have you on CROSSFIRE. Thank you very much. Sadly, we're out of time. We appreciate it.

And just ahead, the CROSSFIRE news alert. What's the difference between a cigarette smoker and a journalist? You'll have to stick around to find out. We will tell you. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: OK, little change of pace here. It used to be no matter how much news you watch, there were always a few stories you never got around to, but no longer. Now our CROSSFIRE news alert fills you in on all the good stuff you may have missed.

First up tonight, it's over. Yes, the long Whitewater investigation is finally over. And guess what? After six years, three different independent counsels, and $70 million, they found zero evidence of criminal wrongdoing by President Clinton or his wife, Hillary. It turned out to be just what it looked like from the start, a dumb Arkansas real estate deal.

Bill and Hillary are sitting by the phone this very minute waiting for Ken Starr's apology. Guess what, Tucker, that phone ain't gonna ring.

CARLSON: Not so fast, Bill Press. Whitewater isn't quite over. That investigation warranted, worthy and wonderful though it was, is still spawning yet more investigations. The latest into Robert Ray, the last independent counsel of the Clinton years. Ray resigned his post last week with a long record of distinguished service. Now he plans to move on into a new career as a Republican candidate for Senate from New Jersey.

But Senator Patrick Leahy, the Democrat of Vermont, says he shouldn't be allowed to. Leahy has asked for an investigation charging that Ray "lined up financial backers before he left his post." Is it payback? Of course, it is. Subtle? As a car crash. PRESS: Go get him, Pat. And as if Illinois voters aren't confused already, it's only going to get worst. Because yesterday, Republicans chose Jim Durkin to run for Senate against Dick Durbin. Of course, Durkin's a state representative. No, that's Durbin. Durbin's an independent U.S. senator.

No, that's Durkin. You see what I mean? Durkin versus Durbin? Even though one's a Democrat and one's a Republican, it's going to be hard to tell them apart. The big question is will Durbin and Durkin duke it out at Dunkin' Donuts?

Tucker, it's the only way I could get Durbin, Durkin and Dunkin' in the same sentence.

CARLSON: To which I say doubtless. It's a time honored tradition in politics. Need money? Soak the unpopular. Government makes billions in tax revenue from cigarette smokers, even as it proclaims cigarette smoking immoral. How does the government get away with it? Cigarette smokers are unpopular and so sadly, are members of the media, which may explain a new plan hatched by Minnesota lawmakers to build a new stadium for their beloved twins. Baseball parks are expensive. The public doesn't want to pay for them.

The plan? Soak the press. The state legislature wants reporters to pay rent before they can cover games. There's little chance, fortunately, it will happen. Unlike cigarette smokers, journalists have a constitutional amendment on their side and amen they do.

PRESS: Freedom of the press, I love it. Don't forget, folks, we want to hear from you. Send your e-mails to Bill and Tucker at crossfire@cnn.com. And that's it for tonight. We'll see you tomorrow night. More CROSSFIRE on Thursday.

CARLSON: We will be there. I'm Tucker Carlson. Good-night from CROSSFIRE.

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