Summaries of Testimony

  • Janet Coumbs was the first criminal trial witness. She was the former caretaker of the Presa Canario dogs that killed Whipple. She thought these dogs were dangerous in some ways but also that they were gentle.

  • David Moser is a neighbor who testified at the criminal trial that one of the dogs previously bit him, and that Noel saw it and said, “Hmmm, that’s interesting.”

  • Lynn Gaines is a professional dog walked who testified in the criminal trial that she told Noel to muzzle the dogs, and that he responded by calling her a vulgar name and told her to shut up.

  • Dr. Donald Martin is a veterinarian who testified in the criminal trial that he warned the defendants, in a letter, that the dogs were dangerous.

  • Devan Hawkes is an employee of the California Corrections Department who investigates gangs. He has testified that Noel and Knoller are associates of the notorious Aryan Brotherhood, a prison gang.

  • Neil Bardacktestified in the criminal case that in September 2000 he saw a dog dragging Knoller along a sidewalk, implying that she could not control the dog. He also said that the dog bit his own dog.

  • John Watanabe testified in the criminal case that in January 2001 two Presa Canario dogs rushed at him in a “snarling frenzy,” but suddenly turned around and ran toward Noel and Knoller.

  • Rhea Wertman-Tallent testified in the criminal case that she saw the dogs howling and lunging at a dog that was across the street two days before Whipple died.

  • Abraham Taylor is a professional dog walker who testified in the criminal case that one of the dogs charged at him.

2/25/02 testimony:

  • Skip Cooley, who lived next door to Noel and Knoller, testified that (1) one of the dogs had lunged at him one day as he was getting out of the elevator; (2) he had lodged a complaint with the apartment manager that the dogs were making noise during the night with barking and scraping of claws on bare wood floors; (3) he once saw the defendants chasing the dogs down the street; and (4) that the dogs were docile when he was alone but when Cooley’s wife was with him, the dogs became “attentive” toward her.

  • Mario Montepeque, who trained dogs for 15 years as a hobby, testified in the criminal trial that he told Noel and Knoller that they needed to train Bane because he had put his chin on the back of another dog, which Montepeque took as Bane trying to be dominant. He also urged Noel to use a choke collar on the dog, but that Noel replied, “There is no control if the dog decides to charge, no way to stop him.”

  • Kelly Harris testified in the criminal trial that while walking her dogs in July 2000, her dogs darted off the trail ahead of her and started to circle a very large dog that was with Knoller. Knoller told her, “Please leash your dogs. You don’t know how serious this is. This dog has been abused. He’ll kill your dogs.” Ms. Harris added that Knoller was very insistent and sounded afraid. 

  • Henry Putek, Jr., a neighbor who lived on the same floor as the defendants,  testified at the criminal trial he saw Knoller sitting on the floor covered in blood with her head down and her arms around her knees. He even asked Knoller if the victim lying on the floor was his wife. 

  • Diana Curtis, who lived in the building, testified in the criminal trial that she once encountered Noel and Hera in an elevator and the dog lunged at her face and Noel used a lot of force and pulled the dog back. 

2/26/02 testimony:

  • Cathy Brooks, a dog fancier, testified in the criminal case that, while at a park, she admired Hera and asked Knoller if it was friendly. Knoller replied that “the dog was questionable — sometimes good with people, sometimes not.” As Brooks kneeled down to pet Hera the dog squared off her chest, made an aggressive stance with her hackles raised a little bit, her tail straight out, ears flat, and stared Brooks down. Brooks backed away very slowly. A few weeks later, Brooks encountered Noel with Bane and Noel told her, “My dog is not friendly.” She asked him why the dog was not muzzled or restrained with a choke collar in an area were other dogs were allowed off their leashes and he told her he could walk his dog anywhere he damn well pleased. Brooks got upset and said, “If the dog is aggressive you shouldn’t be walking him here.” 

  • Derek Brown, a resident of the defendants’ apartment building, testified in the criminal trial that he and his wife were lunged at by the dogs on three separate occasions while Noel strained to hold them on leashes.

  • John O’Connell testified in the criminal trial that one of the dogs lunged, growled, barked and bared its teeth at his 6-year-old son, coming within six inches of the boy’s face. 

2/27/02 testimony:

  • Esther Birkmaier testified at the criminal trial that on the day of the incident she heard growling and barking of dogs, then she heard cries for help, prompting her to look out her peephole. She saw a body on the floor with long hair, wearing light-colored clothes, and saw a dark shadow that looked like a dog. She looked out her peephole for 2 or 3 minutes before calling 911. She heard Knoller’s voice which was loud and shrill, then crashing on her door so strong she put on the security chain, fearing the dogs might break into her apartment. She was very frightened and called 911 again. 

2/27/02 testimony:

  • Paula Gamick, an EMT, testified in the criminal trial that, when she asked Knoller whether she was OK, she said, “I’ve seen this sort of thing before, I’m an EMT, I’ve been in bloody situations like this.” (Knoller has had medical training but was not an EMT.) Knoller did not ask once about Whipple’s condition. Gamick examined Knoller in her apartment and found only a small gash on Knoller’s right thumb and index finger. According to Garnick, Knoller was not in shock, and all of her vital sign were normal. 

  • Leslie Forestal, SFPD sargent, testified in the criminal trial that she found Whipple in the hall trying to crawl toward her apartment. She told Whipple to be calm, and that there was an ambulance on the way. Knoller did not emerge from her apartment for two to four minutes and she saw no wounds on Knoller, though one sleeve of her sweat shirt was torn. Forestal admitted giving no first aid until other officers arrived, several minutes later. 

  • Officer Laws testified in the criminal trial that, when she arrived on the scene, she saw Hera trot past her. She also said that she did not give first aid to Whipple. 

  • Andrea Runge, an animal control officer who arrived minutes after the mauling, testified at the criminal trial that Knoller was “oddly calm – almost cold,” and that Knoller told her she was unable to handle the dogs or help bring the dogs out of her apartment. 

2/28/02 testimony:

  • Sharon Smith testified in the criminal trial that, one month before Whipple was killed, she told Smith that one of the dogs d bitten her in the hand. Thereafter, Whipple was terrified of the dogs and did anything she could to avoid them, even pushing Smith in front of her to make sure there was distance between her and the dogs. Whipple told Smith that she had warned Noel “to control your dog,” but Noel just stared at her. Bane once lunged at Smith and Smith jumped back and put her hand out in trepidation, only to be told by Noel, “No, don’t do that!” Noel explained that the dog had just been in a fight with another dog and was “spooked.” 

  • Alec Cardenas, the first SWAT team officer on the scene, testified in the criminal trial that he is an EMT, that Whipple’s injuries were far beyond his capabilities, that he had almost no medical equipment, and so he simply tried to stop the bleeding from one of her wounds. Knoller told him she was an EMT but she never asked him about the condition of Whipple or offered to help administer aid. 

  • Spencer Gregory, Crime Scene Inspector, testified in the criminal trial and showed the jury three bags which were full of the pieces of Whipple’s clothing, and one small bag containing clumps of Whipple’s hair gathered from the scene. 

  • Gregory Mar, SFPD Forensic Odontologist, testified in the criminal trial he could only match one bite on Whipple’s body with the cast taken of Bane’s teeth, and that other wounds could have been from either dog, but he was unable to determine whether or not  Hera made any of the bites.

3/04/02 testimony:

  • Dr. Boyd Stephens, medical examiner, testified in the criminal case that Whipple sustained 77 wounds and that all surfaces of her body, except the soles of her feet and the tip of her head, were covered with wounds. Dr. Stephens testified that the damage to Whipple’s larynx, combined with the loss of more than 1/3 of her blood, made it unlikely that medical intervention could have saved her. The principal injuries were to the vessels of the neck and larynx which were very serious and fatal injuries. On cross- examination he did agree that direct pressure to her wounds could have been of some help but that it was unlikely Whipple would have survived. Stephens said there was no evidence that there was anything between Whipple and the dog when it was biting her. He said that the cuts on Knoller’s right hand could have been caused by a leash.

The prosecution rested its case on 3/4/02. The defense case began on 3/5/02.

03/05/02 testimony for defense:

  • Dr. Stephanie Flowers, veterinarian, testified in the criminal trial that she had no problems treating Hera for rabies shots and the removal of a foxtail in her ear, although she did find that Hera was underweight and had a poor coat. Hera did not need to be sedated for the foxtail removal when other dogs might. On cross-examination she admitted that when Hera and Bane lunged at people and bit a neighbor it was “clearly inappropriate and potentially dangerous behavior.”

  • Allan Paul, owner of the San Francisco Brewing Company, testified in the criminal trial that he knew the defendants for years and they were regular customers, often coming in with their dogs who were always well-behaved and got along with the other customers of the pub. On cross-examination Mr. Paul admitted that he never saw the dogs in their home environment. 

  • Antoinette Creyer, a waitress at the San Francisco Brewing Company, testified in the criminal trial that she thought Hera was beautiful and that she told Noel that Bane was a “good dog” who took treats from her hand. She said that the defendants had been good to her for four years and had asked her if she would like to adopt one of the dogs, which she declined because her apartment did not allow dogs. 

  • Christopher Monica, an employee of Mail Boxes, Etc., testified in the criminal trial that the defendants copied their legal documents there on many occasions while one of the dogs would sit at their feet and that he would pet  the dog.

  • Bonnie Seats, a friend of the defendants, testified in the criminal trial that she had met the couple with Hera outside their apartment building and she got on her knees to pet Hera who licked her hand and her niece who was seven months pregnant did the same thing. She said Hera was “a sweet dog…wagging her tail and loving the attention.” 

03/06/02 testimony:

  • Sheila Segurson, veterinarian, testified in the criminal trial that when she examined Hera for an evaluation of a heart murmur that Hera did very well and she did not have any problem although Hera was underweight and not in good shape. She evaluated Hera’s temperament to guard against being bitten and found that Hera was a shy, timid and somewhat fearful dog, which can lead to aggression. On cross-examination she testified that the incidents of lunging and snarling at the apartment building residents was a serious warning sign indicative of serious aggression. 

  • Andrew Sams, veterinary surgeon, testified in the criminal trial that he performed a knee operation on Bane and had no problem with him. When asked to evaluate Bane’s behavior he said, “I’m a surgeon, not a behaviorist.”

  • James O’Brien, a retired police officer who ran an animal transport business and had transported Hera and Bane on separate occasions, testified in the criminal trial that the dogs were timid, placid and shy. On cross-examination O’Brien testified that when he delivered Bane and the five other dogs with him to the Los Angeles area there was a group of men with prison tattoos on their necks waiting and Bane was one of the dogs he left with them.

  • Michael Beachnau, manager of Left at Albuquerque in San Francisco, testified in the criminal trial that the defendants were regulars at his restaurant and that they kept their dogs outside under caf‚ tables and that these dogs were no different than the many other dogs he had seen. 

  • Angelos Prongos, owner of the Mayflower Market, testified in the criminal trial that the defendants would tie their dogs to a parking meter or garbage can in front of the store and that the dogs were never a problem.

  • Lefty Prongos, owner of the Mayflower Market, testified in the criminal trial that the dogs were never a problem and that he even fed them meat with his hand and brought his wife to see them. 

  • Heshe Stark, a private investigator who was a close friend of the defendants, testified in the criminal trial that she only met Hera once when the defendants visited her at her apartment and that Hera never made a move for her two cats which were only a few feet away.

03/07/02 testimony:

  • David Kuenzi, who was visiting a friend who was a resident of the apartment building, testified in the criminal trial that he was in the stairwell of the building and heard shrill, high-pitched screams from a woman and he thought someone was being raped or beaten. He also heard a dog barking throughout the attack but it did not occur to him that the dog was “the agent of attack.” The screams ultimately became a whimper and then the same woman said, “Stop, please stop.” It seemed the woman was no longer screaming but begging for mercy. He did not believe there were two woman involved. He was terrified and unsure what to do so he kept running up and down the stairwell. He decided he had to call the police so he went to the lobby in order to get reception on his cell phone.

  • Dave Neville, a defense witness, testified in the criminal trial that two weeks after the death of Whipple he encountered a man walking two dogs about five blocks from the apartment building that looked exactly like the presa canarios that mauled Whipple. The dog owner gave him an unfriendly look and Neville turned away. (The defense explained later that they called Neville to testify in order to show that there were other dogs in the neighborhood that scared passers-by, and that witnesses reporting encounters with Bane and Hera may have been mistaken.)

  • Kim Boyd, a client of the defendants, testified in the criminal trial that she visited their apartment and had taken the elevator down with Noel and one of the dogs and passed a resident without incident.

  • Stephen Tornay and his wife, Galene Tornay, operators of the Rowdy Creek Pet Motel near Pelican Bay State Prison, testified in the criminal trial that the dogs were left at the kennel twice in the weeks before the incident with Whipple and that the dogs were nice.

03/11/02 testimony:

  • Polly James, veterinarian who treated Bane, testified in the criminal trial that Bane was lame in one leg and needed surgery. Dr. James was called as a witness for the defense but on cross-examination from the prosecution, she testified that she muzzled Bane before treating him because when she asked Noel if Bane was good with people Noel responded that he was not. 

  • Darrell Sichel, a client of the defendants, testified in the criminal trial that he visited the defendants in their apartment several times and that the dogs were very friendly, and that he even asked Noel if he could get a dog of this type to guard his ranch and Noel offered to arrange it. 

On 3/11/02, Robert Noel rested his defense case. Knoller’s case continued.

Further testimony on 3/11/02, 3/12/02 and 3/13/02:

  • Marjorie Knoller testified on her own behalf in the criminal trial and sobbed as she stated “I’m feeling awful, just thinking about the horrible way that Ms. Whipple died in that hallway causes me great sorrow and I’m in pain for everybody that knew her and spent time with her.” Here is a brief summary of her testimony:
  • She said that Bane and Hera were trained in obedience, and that both were sweet dogs. If her husband had incidents with Bane, Knoller swears that she did not know about those incidents. 
  • On the day Whipple was killed, Bane was sick. He had a painful hip condition, diarreha, and was on pain killers. Usually she did not walk him, but on that day he had to be taken to the roof at 11:00 AM and again at 3:45 PM. 
  • Upon returning downstairs, Knoller took the poop bag to the garbage shoot, which was 70 feet from Whipple’s door. At the moment that Knoller was depositing the bag into the shoot, the elevator arrived and Whipple exited it. Bane was disinterested in Whipple. 
  • As Knoller opened the door to her apartment, 50 feet from Whipple’s, Hera stuck her head out and barked. Knoller said that the barking Hera made Bane “interested” in Whipple. At that point, Bane began dragging Knoller down to hall, toward Whipple. 
  • Knoller said that she did everything she could to stop Bane from attacking Whipple, including throwing her body on top of Whipple’s body. When Whipple “moved in a manner where she struck me in the right eye with her fist or hand,” Bane bit Whipple in the neck, which is the first time Knoller saw any blood. Knoller got back on top of Whipple and told her to stay down because Bane was trying to protect her. 
  • Knoller screamed at her dog, “Bane, no. Bane, stop. Bane, off,” but he would not respond to her commands and would not stop attacking Whipple, with the attack getting worse. 
  • Knoller punched Bane in the face and put her hand in his mouth to try to stop his attack, and Bane began to bite her hand and then stopped. 
  • When the attack ended Whipple was in “grave” condition and “had been bleeding profusely.” 
  • When asked if she was an associate of the Aryan Brotherhood, Knoller responded, “I’m Jewish and my family were survivors of the Holocaust. So, no.” 
  • “I had no idea that he would ever do anything like that,” she said. “How could you anticipate something like that? A totally bizarre event? How can you anticipate that a dog that you know, that is gentle and loving and affectionate, can do something so horrible and brutal and disgusting and gruesome?” 

On 3/13/02, Marjorie Knoller rested her defense case. 

The prosecution’s rebuttal lasted part of one day, 3/14/02:

  • Randall Lockwood, an official of the US Humane Society, testified in the criminal trial that Knoller’s wounds probably came from trying to pull on the dog’s leash. He said that the bites on Knoller were of a different character than the ones on Whipple, and suggested that Knoller was at some distance from Whipple. He also testified that the odds of Bane killing Whipple on that day were “zero to one in ten million.”

  • The final piece of evidence introduced by prosecutors was a letter written by Noel to Schneider: 

    “There is no way to ease into this. Bane is dead, as is our neighbor,” the letter began. “Neighbors be damned,” he wrote. “If they don’t like living in the building with [Hera], they can move.”