Diane Whipple’s savage killing 15 years ago by a sick, violent Presa Canario resulted in the dog bite trial of the century, People v. Knoller and Noel. (See The Diane Whipple Case.) In prison since it happened, Marjorie Knoller has appealed her conviction several times on different grounds. According to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals this week, Knoller’s prosecutor, James Hammer, committed misconduct so severe and unethical as to deprive Knoller of her constitutional right to a fair trial. Nevertheless, the nation’s second-highest appellate court let stand her conviction.
We have to wonder about this. To me, this outcome is an example of the right thing happening for the wrong reasons. As someone who represents dog bite victims and the families of people killed by dogs, I am gratified that Knoller did not get off on a technicality, but as an attorney with 40 years of court experience and a doctorate in law, I am appalled at the horrible way she was convicted. Compare her case with O.J. Simpson’s murder trial, and you will completely understand that when a brilliant lawyer (Hammer, Johnnie Cochran) faces off against an incompetent one (Nedra Ruiz, Marcia Clark), the client with the brilliant lawyer is likely to win no matter how big the crime or the constitutional errors. Consider whether that is such a good thing.