The San Francisco Dog Mauling
Insights into the fatal dog attack on Diane Whipple
This site created by expert in animal behavior for the Defense:
Richard H. Polsky, Ph.D., CAAB
Animal Behavior Counseling Services, Inc., Los Angeles, CA.
Introduction | Description of the fatal dog attack | Investigation into the fatal dog attack
The Indictment | Pre-trial Developments | The Trial
Prosecution arguments | Defense arguments
Good dog witnesses | Bad dog witnesses | Expert testimony in animal behavior
Partial listing of principal individuals involved in the case:
The San Francisco dog mauling is about the tragic death of 33-year-old all-american lacross player and coach, Diane Whipple. Whipple's death immediately became a national news story partially because of the bizarre nature of the circumstances surrounding the case, the fact that Whipple was a popular and attractive gay person in a socially reactive and pro-gay city like San Francisco, and also because of the brutal manner in which two massive Presa Canario dogs, Bane and Hera, took Whipple's life. Moreover, the case became of significant legal interest because second-degree murder charges were filed against one of the owners of the dogs.
Bane and Hera were owned by neighbors of Whipple: a married couple, 60-year old Robert Noel and 46-year old Majorie Knoller. Noel and Knoller, both practicing attorneys by profession, had been keeping Bane and Hera in their sixth floor, 800 sq. ft. apartment in the upscale Pacific Heights section of San Francisco for about 4 months prior to the incident. Whipple lived on the same floor as Noel and Knoller with her partner, Sharon Smith.
Prosecutors argued that during the time the dogs resided with the defendants, the dogs behaved in a manner that must have given Noel and Knoller sufficient knowledge to realize that Bane and Hera were dangerous by nature and that they could kill a human. Prosecutors also argued that Noel and Knoller callously disregarded the safety of others and that they did not take any steps to reduce the grave danger the dogs presented. In a nutshell, this is what this case is about.
Many of the issues in this case are similar to the issues found in other civil and criminal litigation involving dog attacks. As such, the issues in this high-profile case illustrate the interesting interplay between dog behavior and the law.
This site is the creation of Los Angeles applied animal behaviorist, Richard H. Polsky. Dr. Polsky developed a strong interest in this case after having been retained by the defense as an expert in animal behavior. Throughout the course of the proceedings Polsky worked closely with the defense, particularly San Francisco attorney Bruce Hotchkiss, counsel for Robert Noel.
About 4:00 pm on January 26, 2001, Knoller had arrived at the doorway of her 6th floor apartment after having taken a short excursion to the rooftop of the building with Bane. She had taken Bane to the rooftop to eliminate as an emergency measure because he was sick with diarrhea. She had the responsibility of taking care of Bane late into the day because Noel was out of town on business and had become delayed in arriving home due to mechanical problems with his car.
When Knoller returned from the rooftop and opened her apartment door, her other Canary dog, Hera, was at the doorway waiting. Hera noticed Whipple in the hallway entering her own apartment approximately 60 feet away. Whipple had just returned from grocery shopping. According to Knoller, Hera started growling at Whipple. Knoller had Bane restrained on leash attached to a harness. Despite this restraint, Bane became aroused upon hearing Hera's growling, he too turned his attention to Whipple, and then he began pulling Knoller down the hall towards Whipple.
As Bane advanced towards Whipple, Knoller was dragged on the floor behind him. At this point, it is likely that Knoller lost the ability to control the 125 lb. Bane. After Bane reached Whipple, according to Knoller, he stood on his hind legs and pinned the 5'3", 110 lb. Whipple against the wall, straddling her shoulders with his forelegs. Knoller claims that she then tried to push Whipple into her apartment in an attempt to get her away from Bane. Whipple resisted. Words were probably exchanged between Knoller and Whipple. The confrontation was hostile. In the struggle Knoller claims that Whipple hit her in the eye. Both Knoller and Whipple fell to the floor. Moments later Knoller's other dog, Hera, came onto the scene. Whipple now may have tried to crawl away. However, at this stage, Bane's aggressive reactivity towards Whipple spiraled out of control. He starting attacking Whipple in a sustained, uninhibited and frenzied manner. Knoller claims she tried to cover Whipple with her body to protect her from Bane and that every time Whipple moved from underneath Knoller, Bane would attack. Within a period of about 6 minutes Bane, and possibly Hera who may have joined the attack, stopped attacking. There was no need for further attack by the dogs because Whipple was nearly motionless, stripped of nearly all her clothes, and she laid dying and naked on the hallway floor.
Whipple sustained a total of 77 bite wounds, the most serious ones being severe bites to her neck. Some of the punctures in Whipple's neck were so deep that they nearly severed her vertebrae.
No one, not even Knoller, came to the immediate aid of Whipple. Knoller says she went to look for her keys. Others in the apartment building also heard commotion but took no action. A terrified elderly neighbor, who witnessed part of the attack through the peep-hole of her apartment door, phoned 911. Within 10 minutes, police and paramedics arrived and they transported Whipple to San Francisco General Hospital where she died 5 hours later from massive blood loss (due to injury to the jugular vein and carotid artery) and asphyxiation (due to a crushed larynx).
Investigation into the fatal dog attack
As the investigation into the dog mauling began, information and events started to emerge which made the case unusual. First, shortly after the attack, Noel sent a rambling 18 page letter to the San Francisco district attorney, Terrence Hallinan, in which he denied any responsibility for the killing. In the letter he speculated the perfume Whipple was wearing, or the fact that she may have been on steroids, provoked his dogs to attack.
Next, investigators learned of the connection between the defendants and 38 year-old Paul "Cornfed" Schneider, an inmate serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at California's Pelican Bay State Prison. Schneider, described as one of the most dangerous men in the California penal system, was incarcerated for a number of felonies, one of which included the attempted murder of his attorney. Schneider had become acquainted with Noel and Knoller through their legal work at Pelican Bay representing prison guards charged with abusing prisoners. Subsequent to the trial of Noel and Knoller, Schneider was convicted of federal racketeering in 2003 and conspiracy for robbery committed outside prison by Aryan Brotherhood associates that resulted in the death of a sheriff's deputy in Sonoma County, CA..
Further investigation led to the revelation that Schneider and his cell mate, Dale Bridges, had plans in place to operate a web-based business from prison named Dog-O'-War Kennels. It purpose was to breed and sell aggressive Presa canario dogs to drug labs to finance the activities of the notorious white supremacist prison gang, Ayran Brotherhood. Schneider was a high-ranking member of the Ayran Brotherhood.
Schneider arranged for Noel and Knoller to obtain the Bane and Hera from another individual who had befriended him: a partially disabled and unemployed person named Janet Coumbs. Coumbs made humanitarian visits to Pelican Bay as a "good Christian". As a favor to Schneider, she agreed to maintain and breed the Canary dogs Schneider had purchased (assumed through internet transactions) on a small farm she owned in Hayfork, CA. Two of these dogs were Bane and Hera.
Bane and Hera were delivered to Coumbs as pups from different breeders (Bane was obtained from Stygian Kennels in Chicago and Hera was obtained from Hard Times Kennels in Union City, CA.). After delivery, Coumbs maintained regular contact with Schneider. She sent him photos of the dogs. Eventually Coumbs fell out of favor with Schneider, however. Schneider complained that Coumbs was turning the dogs into "wusses". He was angry because they were not exercised on treadmills or injected with steroids.
Via Schneider's orders, Coumbs was directed to turn the dogs over to Noel and Knoller. On April 1st, 2000, Noel, Knoller and several others, arrived at Coumbs' farm and took possession of the dogs. Hera was first transported to Peninsula Pet Resort in the Bay area. Subsequently she arrived in the defendant's San Francisco apartment on April 30th. Bane was first taken to the private home of Rachel Huguez in southern California and subsequently to Noel and Knoller's apartment to live with Hera in early September, approximately 5 months before the mauling.
During trial Coumbs' testified that she felt she was used as an unwitting pawn in Schneider's scheme to raise and sell the dogs. She described the rampant destruction the dogs had engage in, the killing of her farm animals by the dogs, and the aggressive nature of Hera towards people. It was also learned that Coumbs was in a Witness Protection Program because of threats she received from the Ayran Brotherhood.
The investigation into Whipple's death further revealed that - strange as it might seem - just days after the mauling Schneider became the legally adopted son of Noel and Knoller. Authorities were curious to learn why the defendants would choose to adopt a 38 year-old white supremacist. Apparently, Noel and Knoller adopted Schneider in an effort to bring them closer together as a family. In fact, Noel referred to the relationship between himself, his wife, and Schneider as the "triad". To many, this seemed rather odd: A search of Schneider's cell at Pelican Bay uncovered nude photos of his "mother" Knoller. With respect to the adoption, Noel commented "He may be a prisoner but at least he's not a Republican." Click here for an example of the correspondence from Noel to Schneider about the adoption.
The case became more bizarre when letters from the defendants to Schneider were discovered suggesting acts of bestiality occurred between Knoller and the dogs. Thus, it became clear to authorities that the relationship the defendants had with Schneider was rather unusual, suggesting that they knew and possibly even involved themselves in his scheme to breed and sell aggressive Canary dogs.
Next, the defendants accepted no responsibility and expressed little remorse for Whipple's death. Instead, they blamed Whipple for her own death. They appeared on the TV program Good Morning America in February, 2001 to defend themselves and their dogs. This caused public outrage, particularly amongst those in San Francisco's gay community.
Finally, other people starting coming forth saying they also had experienced dangerous encounters with the dogs and that Noel and Knoller showed no concern. Against this background, the victim Whipple was likable, an accomplished athlete, and gay. In marked contrast, the defendants came across to many as decidedly not likable and arrogant. For example, in one of Noel's letters to Schneider, he described Whipple as a "timorous, mousy blond who almost had a coronary after an encounter with Bane."
In March, 2001, Knoller and Noel were indicted for manslaughter along with a relatively new California felony charge of owning a dangerous animal that killed someone. Surprisingly, the Grand Jury also returned an indictment against Knoller for second-degree murder. Click here for a description of the law as it pertains to the three felony charges. Both defendants testified before the Grand Jury. They denied that their dogs had ever acted aggressively to anyone.
In the months leading up to the trial, the case generated a substantial amount of national publicity. Stories appeared about the defendant's ties to the prison inmates and the supposed acts of bestiality. The lesbian partner of Whipple, 36-year old banking executive Sharon Smith, made news when she became the first person to be granted the right to file a lawsuit for wrongful death of a gay partner. This event was hailed as a victory for the gay rights movement and Smith became a heroine in her own right.
After the Grand Jury hearings, there was the vicious dog hearing for Hera. Unlike Bane, Hera was not destroyed but kept alive and placed in the San Francisco SPCA animal shelter for behavioral testing. Testing was conducted by animal behavior experts for the prosecution and the results from the testing were used to support the belief that Hera was vicious by nature and that it was likely that she was also involved in the mauling. Subsequent to the hearing, bitter squabbling ensued between the prosecution and defense over the fate of Hera. The defense wanted Hera kept alive so that they could conduct their own behavioral testing outside the shelter environment. In spite of the lawsuits filed to stop Hera's destruction, she was eventually destroyed in January 2002.
Next, the defense argued that a fair trial could not be conducted in San Francisco. Based on a costly study conducted by defense experts, findings showed that the vast majority people in the Bay area felt the defendants were guilty. The trial was therefore moved to Los Angeles. James Warren, a San Francisco judge, appointed to the bench by former Republican governor Pete Wilson, was assigned the case.
Next, Knoller fired her first attorney, a public defender, and then hired the outspoken Nedra Ruiz, an associate in the San Francisco criminal defense firm of controversial Tony Serra. Serra was portrayed in the 1989 movie True Believer. Serra could not represent Knoller because he was busy defending former Symbionese Liberation Army member Sara Jane Olson. Previously, Serra along with Ruiz, represented a Santa Cruz man convicted of second-degree murder for killing his neighbor and then burning the body in the backyard. Serra has been quoted as saying: "My subsidence is drugs and murder ... I'll try any political case that comes along. If you kill a cop, I'll pay to take the case."
Finally, just before the start of trial, an article appeared in Rolling Stone magazine in which Knoller, during a prison interview, gave yet another version of the events in the hallway. Prior to that, California Lawyer published an article detailing the personal lives and professional pursuits of Noel and Knoller.
Pre-trial rulings and jury selection
In a significant ruling prior to the start of trial, Warren excluded the possibility of the prosecution introducing evidence suggesting acts of bestiality by the defendants. The defense obviously wanted to keep this out because of its strong prejudicial nature.
Another pre-trial ruling pertained to the prosecution's use of a video showing the behavioral testing on Hera in the animal shelter. The behavioral expert for the prosecution opined that the results from this testing clearly demonstrated that Hera's was dangerous. On the other hand, the defense through the testimony of Dr. Polsky, argued that results from the tests were invalid, in part, because they did not adhere to established scientific standards. Nevertheless, Judge Warren ruled in favor of the prosecution saying that it would be up to the jury to decide what weight they would give to this evidence. As it turned out, the prosecution never introduced the evidence from Hera's behavioral inspection at trial, probably because it was too inconclusive.
In another ruling, Warren refused to grant separate trials for the defendants and later, during trial, he went even further by ruling that evidence pertaining to one defendant applied to the other. Warren ruled that the prosecution would be allowed to argue that Noel was criminally negligent because he allowed Knoller to take Bane out in public (i.e. up to the rooftop on the day of the incident).
The jury was chosen from over a pool of 800 potential jurors. Click here for part of the 29-page jury questionnaire that pertains to aspects of dog behavior and jurors' familiarity with dogs. Seven men and five women were finally chosen. Most jury members were dog owners and a few even had negative encounters with dogs.
The trial began in mid-February 2002. It consumed 18 court days covering a period of nearly 5 weeks. In his opening statement, Hammer made much ado about the defendant's connections to Schneider and the Aryan Brotherhood, the defendants cold and callous nature, and the inconsistent or unbelievable testimony Noel and Knoller gave at the Grand Jury hearings. Numerous pieces of correspondence from Noel to Schneider were read to the jury. For example, in one chilling letter written by Noel shortly after the mauling, he states (with reference to Hera who was still alive): "There is no way to ease into this. Bane is dead as is our neighbor ..... Neighbors be dammed. If they don't like living in the building with her, they can move." Hammer also read a portion of Knoller's Grand Jury testimony in which she stated that Hera was no more dangerous than a chihuahua!
The prosecution also used a large projection screen to display the gory pictures of Whipple's mauled body. Hammer presented a life-size cast of Bane's mouth and teeth. He repeatedly showed this to the jury, snapping the jaws shut, creating the impression that Bane's teeth were indeed lethal weapons.
As a means to discredit Knoller, Hammer replayed the tape of what Knoller said on the Good Morning America show. In the interview Knoller protrays indifference and blames Whipple for her own death. According to Knoller, "It's not my fault. I wouldn't say that I was unable to control them. Ms. Whipple had ample opportunity to move into her own apartment. She could have just slammed the door shut. I would have." These comments may have sealed Knoller's fate.
- Bane and Hera were dangerous by nature;
- Noel and Knoller knew about this danger;
- Noel and Knoller did nothing to lessen this danger:
- Noel and Knoller had no control over their dogs.
Click here for a more detailed description of the
prosecution's arguments and supporting evidence.
Noel was not present at the time of the
The circumstances that gave rise to the attack were not foreseeable;
Only in retrospect (i.e. after the mauling took place) could one appreciate that the dogs were capable of killing.
- Knoller was a hero for trying to save the life of
- No one had ever complained about Bane and
Hera's past displays of aggression;
- Bane and Hera were well-behaved and
nonaggressive the vast majority of time;
- Knoller and Noel were responsible owners who
kept Bane and Hera as pets.
Click here for a more detailed description of the defense arguments and supporting evidence.
Nearly 60 witnesses testified. There were the so-called "Bad Dog" witnesses for the prosecution. These witnesses, collectively, testified that there were about 30 occasions in which they or others had aggressive encounters with the dogs. Some also testified about incidents which showed the defendant's lack of control over Bane and Hera. For example, several witnesses said they saw either Noel or Knoller being dragged by the dogs. A veterinarian, Donald Martin who examined the dogs while they were at Coumbs' farm, testified that months prior to the mauling he had sent the defendants a letter warning them that Bane and Hera "would be liabilities in any household." Several others testified about the warnings they gave the defendants; for example, the need to have the dogs muzzled. A prison gang expert testified that the defendants were "associates" of the Ayran Brotherhood and that they helped run a dog-breeding business for the Ayran Brotherhood.
To counter this, the defense called "Good Dog" witnesses. These were people who experienced favorable, non-aggressive encounters with the dogs. Jurors were also shown photos of the Noel and Knoller posing with their dogs outside upscale restaurants and stores in San Francisco. An important part Ruiz's defense for Knoller was that Knoller acted heroically in her attempts to save Whipple. To support this argument, Ruiz introduced photos of Knoller's bruised face and blood-stained clothing. The defense also called a medical expert who testified that the bites on Knoller's body were similar to the bites found on Whipple.
The highlight of the trial was undoubtedly the testimony of Knoller. She gave three days of highly emotional testimony, punctuated by bouts of sobbing and shouting. She said she could not understand why Bane turned from a loving, docile, friendly pet into a vicious killer. "How could he turn into what he turned into in that hallway" she shouted during her testimony. She said that no one had ever warned her that her dogs could be vicious. She asserted "never in a million years did she think Bane was capable of doing something like that." To discredit the testimony of the bad-dog witnesses, Knoller said they were all mistaken, inaccurate or that the instances never happened.
Noel never took the stand. Further, during trial, Noel's attorney, Hotchkiss, chose not to cross-examine some prosecution witnesses. This may have been a tactical decision, perhaps because Hotchkiss felt the testimony of certain witnesses had more to do with Knoller's culpability rather than Noel's.
Fireworks in the courtroom
From the onset, Ruiz unconventional style of lawyering was the focus of much attention. During opening statements, she dramatically crawled on the floor to demonstrate how Knoller tried to protect Whipple from Bane's onslaught.
Ruiz also made a number of controversial statements during trial. First, she suggested that Whipple's partner, Sharon Smith, was partially at fault for Whipple's death because she never complained about a previous encounter in which Bane supposedly bit Whipple on the hand. She asked Smith during cross-examination: "Do you consider that if you had made a complaint that Diane Whipple might be alive today?" The prosecution objected and Smith did not answer. Outside the courtroom, Smith said she was shocked and deeply offended by the question. Others also were critical of Ruiz for her tactics.
Nevertheless, Ruiz continued to attack Smith. Despite the gag order imposed by Warren limiting what the attorneys could say outside court, Ruiz appeared on the Fox News Program On the Record with Greta Van Susteren. Ruiz questioned Smith's creditability. Ruiz accused Smith of lying or exaggerating her claim that Whipple had previously been bitten by Bane or that Whipped feared the dogs. Warren got wind of the appearance of Ruiz via complaints he starting receiving the next day in court. Warren was not happy. Ruiz was told that sanctions against her might be made. Later, sanctions in the amount of $750 were imposed against her after the trial concluded.
Next, Ruiz suggested that Hammer, who is gay, was trying to "curry favor" with San Francisco's gay and lesbian population by prosecuting the case. This statement outraged many. Next, Ruiz argued that the prosecution should not be allowed to use evidence from the Grand Jury hearing because District Attorney Terrence Hallinan intentionally created negative publicity against the defendants, and because in Ruiz's words, "even a ham sandwich can be indicted."
In austere fashion Warren ruled against Ruiz by citing a report which concluded that it was the defendants who brought hostility upon themselves via their public statements suggesting their untruthfullness, their lack of sorrow and responsibility, and blaming the victim for her own death. Finally, during Hammer's closing argument, Ruiz stood up and objected - a tactic which is simply not allowed by opposing counsel during closing arguments. This first time she did this it brought sharp rebuke from Warren. However, when she did this again a short time later, Warren threatened to immediately put her in jail!
Ruiz's style of lawyering contrasted markedly with the low-key, emotionally-contained style adopted by Noel's attorney, Bruce Hotchkiss. Throughout the trial, Hotchkiss maintained a low-profile and was out of the spotlight.
Behavioral arguments were never utilized at trial to their full extent. Hammer chose not develop behavioral arguments through expert testimony despite having retained two doctoral-level animal behavior experts for this purpose. Partially for this reason, the defense had less of a need to call Polsky to testify. More importantly, the defense was hesitant to use Polsky as a testifying expert because they knew that Polsky felt the dogs were dangerous and that Polsky would have warned the defendants of the danger Bane and Hera presented.
Towards the end of the trial, Polsky came close to testifying as a rebuttal witness to the prosecution's behavioral expert, Randall Lockwood, Ph.D. Dr. Lockwood was used to rebut aspects of the Knoller's testimony and to undermine the testimony from the Good dog witnesses. Much of what Lockwood said, in the opinion of this author, was beneficial for the defense, particularly in regard to his testimony regarding bite inhibition.
For example, Lockwood testified that dogs have the ability to control the force of their bite - in other words, intentionally inhibit their bite at will. Inhibited bites were in fact the kind of aggressive displays Bane had previously engaged in. This in turn suggests that Bane was intentionally reserved in his previous aggression towards people, therefore suggesting that he may not have been as dangerous as the prosecution wanted the jury to believe. The defense knew that Bane's previous bites to people were of the inhibited type but they did not challenge Lockwood on this point, nor did Ruiz in her cross examination challenge Lockwood on other points about dog behavior which may have been helpful to the defense.
Dr. Lockwood gave very strong testimony for the prosecution with regard to his downplaying the significance of Bane and Hera's "good" behavior towards people (as presented by the Good dog witnesses). Lockwood said, "On one hand, if a dog licks 10 children in the face and then bites the finger off of the 11th, those ten prior acts are irrelevant in terms of telling me what standard of care needs to be exercised in supervising that dog."
Immediately following Lockwood, Polsky was in the courtroom scheduled to testify despite objections from the prosecution. Unexpectedly, the defense changed their minds at the last moment about having Polsky take the stand. The risk existed that more harm than good might come by having Polsky testify, or perhaps the defense's thinking was that Lockwood's testimony was not that damaging.
Earlier, in a pre-trial hearing, Polsky testified for the defense about the careless and nonscientific manner in which behavioral testing was conducted on Hera (Bane could not be evaluated because he was destroyed by lethal injection shortly after the mauling) and also in regard to whether the defendant's alleged acts of sex with the dogs contributed to the attack.
The decision by Ruiz to let Knoller testify may have been a serious mistake. Her testimony was not convincing. It was not believable. Jurors carefully studied her courtroom testimony and compared it with her appearance on the Good Morning America show. The differences were rather glaring. Jurors believed that Knoller's testimony was both fabricated and inconsistent. The jury felt that Knoller knew that Bane and Hera were capable of killing. One juror commented that the defendants showed "no kind of sympathy, no kind of apologies."
Consequently, the jury returned Guilty verdicts for both defendants on all five counts. The consensus among legal experts was that Knoller's creditability was the key factor that undermined not only her defense but also possibly that of Noel.
The conviction of second degree murder for Knoller was unprecedented in California. Legal expert did not expect conviction on this charge. It was the only the third time in this country that anyone has been convicted of murder due to the actions of their dog.
Appeal of the murder charge
Legal experts felt that there were good grounds for appeal on the murder charge. The appeal was heard before Judge Warren several months later. Warren, in a controversial decision, overturned the murder conviction. Warren called Knoller despicable but concluded that the evidence presented at trial did not support such a harsh and rare verdict. Warren felt that there was no evidence to show that Knoller knew the dogs could kill someone. Click here for legal commentary about this decision.
In a later development the state attorney general's office filed papers in April 2003 with the 1st District Court of Appeal requesting that Knoller's murder conviction be reinstated. They argued that for a murder charge, the standard in California only requires a defendant to know that their dog could cause serious injury to a person and not necessiarily death. In short, proscecutors still believe that Knoller kew enough about the risks involved in exposing these dogs to the public to warrant a murder conviction. Attorney Dennis Riordan, representing Knoller, will argue that she did not act in conscious disregard for human life - the standard needed for a murder conviction - when she took Bane for a wak to the rooftop to releive himself on the day of the incident. Arguments this latest appeal took place on March 15, 2005 and a written decision will be rendered by appelate judges within 90 days.
Knoller remained incarcerated after trial. She was released from jail in January, 2004 after having served more than half of a four-year sentence for the manslaughter charge. She is now on parole and living in Flordia with her mother. Noel was released from jail on parole in September, 2003 after serving about half of his four year sentence and is reported living in Fairfield, CA.
A number of important behavioral questions were not answered. The questions listed below may have impacted the outcome had they been addressed and developed more fully during trial.
Q. Just because Bane and Hera were Presa canario dogs, did this make them dangerous by nature?
Q. Did the defendant's rescue Bane and Hera from an abusive situation on Janet Coumbs' farm?
Q. Was Bane's bite to Noel's hand reflective of a dog with a vicious nature?
Q. Were Bane's and Hera's displays of aggression towards dogs reflective of their aggressive nature towards people?
Q. What was the significance of the fact that despite Bane and Hera having several opportunities to severely attack a person prior to the mauling of Whipple, they never actually did so?
Q. Prior to the mauling of Whipple, were Bane's and Hera's displays of aggression, as reported by the Bad Dog witnesses, predictive of dogs who would viciously attack or perhaps kill a person?
Q. Were the "warnings" the defendant received sufficient to make them realize that intervention was needed?
Q. What steps should the defendants have taken to lessen Bane and Hera's aggressive tendencies?
Q. Why did Bane go berserk?
Q. Was Knoller on top of Whipple during the attack?
Q. Was it possible for Knoller to stop Bane once he started attacking Whipple?
Q. Were the circumstances of Whipple's mauling similar to the circumstances found in other dog-related fatalities?
Q. Did the defendants have sex with their dogs?
Why did the jury focus on the intermittent negative past encounters Bane and Hera had with people rather than on the many positive encounters which regularly occurred? Surely, these dogs also had a "good" side to them as reflective in their amicable discourse with Noel and Knoller, and with other people they met away from their territory. In fact, there was only a small percentage of occasions - relative to the total opportunity - in which they actually displayed their aggression. In contrast, there were thousands of occasions in which they behaved in a perfectly normal manner towards unfamiliar people they encountered in the apartment building (particularly the lobby area).
Prior to the mauling of Whipple, these dogs had never attacked any stranger in severe fashion, despite having several opportunities to do so. These dogs were never trained to intentionally attack. They were not used for guard dog or watch dog purposes. Bane and Hera were kept by the defendants simply as pets. The prosecution introduced no conclusive evidence to the contrary with regard to this latter point.
However, the case for the defense suffered because they could not find favorable witnesses from the apartment building to testify on their behalf. Everyone living there, and even those in the immediate neighborhood, took a dislike towards the defendants. People in the neighborhood who knew Bane referred to him as the Dog of Death, the Beast, or Killer dog.
Bane and Hera engaged in displays of aggression which would have been enough to frighten any person. Although they were a relatively low percentage behavior, they nevertheless occurred with sufficient frequency (approximately 30 times in a five month period) to put Noel and Knoller on notice. In the words of prosecution expert Lockwood, "even if it happens just once in ten times then a greater standard of care is required." Based on this evidence, it was correct to conclude that these dogs were dangerous by nature and that Noel and Knoller knew about these dangerous tendencies prior to the mauling of Whipple but took no meaningful action to correct the situation.
One should not loose sight of the fact that Bane's and Hera's displays of aggression were typical occurrences of normal territorial behavior - a trait found in many dogs and a trait valued by many dog owners. The difference here was that these displays were made by large, intimidating dogs who had the potential to inflict serious injury (but not necessarily kill). Moreover, Bane and Hera's displays of aggression became increasingly more frequent. The displays were made by dogs who could not be fully controlled by their owners, and yet the owners continued to take them out in public. Further, what made matters worse, was the fact that the owners were disrespectful to those who were the targets of the dogs' aggressive displays. It appeared to many that Noel and Knoller simply did not care.
Thus Noel and Knoller were portrayed by the prosecution as horrible, despicable people. They were portrayed as insensitive and totally disrespectful of the needs and safety of others. Association with a prison gang members, cold and callous attitudes towards neighbors who were undoubtedly frightened of the dogs, and blaming Whipple for her own death, did not play well with the jury. It created a feeling of strong dislike towards the defendants. Moreover, the people of San Francisco, particularly those in the gay community, were eager to see harsh punishment for the defendants. Undoubtedly, Hammer knew this, and as lead prosecutor he may have been motivated by his own political and social agendas. Ruiz alluded to this during trial but she caught alot of flak for doing so.
What the defendants said to the media certainly damaged their own cause, their attitude was horrible, and who they chose to associate with was foolish. Noel and Knoller were their own worst enemy. However, very little of this had anything to do with the main issues of the case: Were the dogs dangerous by nature and did the defendants know about this? Did Knoller know Bane could kill? Did Whipple play any role in making Bane go berserk? Once the attack started, was it possible for Knoller to stop it? Was Bane like a loaded gun? Was the mishandling of Bane by Knoller on the day of the incident foreseeable?
Issues such as these are tied in part to an understanding of the aggressive behavioral tendencies of dogs. Greater use of behaviorally-based arguments by the defense may have allowed jurors to act with more reason before finally reaching a guilty verdict for Knoller on second degree murder and guilty for Noel with regard to the charge of manslaughter.