Marjorie Fran Knoller (born c. 1956) and Robert Edward Noel (born c. 1942) are attorneys married to each other. They owned a dog that killed Diane Whipple in San Francisco on January 26, 2001. After a trial that attracted international attention, they were sent to prison for involuntary manslaughter. However on August 22, 2008, San Francisco Judge Charlotte Woolard reinstated Knoller's second degree murder conviction. Knoller was immediately taken into custody. In September of 2008 she was resentenced to serve 15 years to life in prison.
As Noel was reported to be 60 years old in 2002, he was born c.1942. He "graduated from the University of Baltimore Law School in 1967."
The two were married in 1989.(p.138) Starting in the mid-1990s, Noel and Knoller ran "their law office... out of a converted closet in their Pacific Heights apartment" in San Francisco.(p.144)
In 2000, Knoller and Noel "obtained their two Presa Canarios, named Bane and Hera, through their relationship with a pair of Pelican Bay State Prison inmates, Paul 'Cornfed' Schneider (who they had legally adopted as their son) and Dale Bretches, members of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang." Knoller and Noel had first met Schneider at a trial.(p.148) Bane was male and Hera female; by January 2001, "Bane weighed 140 pounds and Hera close to 100 pounds."
The dog(s) caused "77 wounds" to Whipple, with "only her scalp and feet escap[ing] harm." Whipple died at San Francisco General Hospital; the cause of death was "loss of blood from multiple traumatic injuries (dog bite wounds)."(pp.10,28)
On January 29, 2001, "Knoller and Noel formally adopt[ed] Schneider, who [was] serving a life sentence for aggravated assault and attempted murder." It was reported that "even their relatives [were] at a loss to understand" the adoption.
In March 2001, a grand jury indicted Knoller and Noel. Knoller was indicted for second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, Noel was indicted for involuntary manslaughter, and "both also face[d] felony charges of keeping a mischievous dog."
The trial by jury, which began in January 2002, "was moved to Los Angeles because of extensive publicity in the Bay Area." Among other aspects, the trial was notable for:
The jury convicted Knoller and Noel on all counts in March 2002. Knoller became "the first person ever to be convicted of murder in a dog-mauling case in California." Jurors interviewed after the trial said that Knoller's testimony was "not believable."
In April 2002, Knoller replaced her attorney Nedra Ruiz with attorney Dennis Riordan. A San Francisco Superior Court judge, in a June 2002 ruling, overturned Knoller's second-degree murder conviction because he could not "say, as a matter of law, that her [Knoller's] conduct was such that she subjectively knew on Jan. 26 that a human being was likely to die." Prosecutor Hammer called the decision a "travesty."(p.307)
Noel was sentenced in June 2002 "to the four-year maximum term" for involuntary manslaughter. He was sent to Deuel Vocational Institution but was later moved to Oregon because of "concerns that his having represented inmates and prison guards in California might jeopardize his safety."
Knoller was sentenced in July 2002 to four years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and "was transferred within hours" to Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW). In September 2003 Knoller was "still serving her time" at VSPW when Noel was sent from Oregon to High Desert State Prison and then paroled to Solano County.
During her time at VSPW, Knoller "refused to work. The January 1, 2004, Los Angeles Times stated that Knoller served all "16 months of [her] four-year sentence" at VSPW, which "is typical for inmates who avoid trouble in prison and receive credit for time served in jail before sentencing. The January 1, 2004, San Francisco Chronicle stated that Knoller was to be released from VSPW to "serve three years' parole somewhere in Southern California." According to newspaper reports on January 3, 2004, however, Knoller was actually released from Central California Women's Facility on January 1, 2004, and sent to Ventura County on parole.
The terms of Knoller's and Noel's paroles included:
The office of California Attorney General Bill Lockyer had filed an April 2003 appeal of the Superior Court's June 2002 overturning of Knoller's second-degree murder conviction. In May 2005 the California 1st District Court of Appeal reinstated the jury's verdict of second-degree murder; Knoller's attorney Dennis Riordan said he would appeal the Court of Appeal's decision.
After Knoller's and Noel's convictions in 2002, the State Bar of California had suspended their law licenses. In April 2007, it was reported that both Knoller and Noel had lost their law licenses. Knoller resigned her license in January 2007, and Noel was disbarred in February 2007.
In May 2007 the Supreme Court of California sent the 2002 case back to the Superior Court "to consider restoring [the] jury's second-degree murder conviction." The California Supreme Court "rejected both the lower-court standards and said Knoller, or any other defendant responsible for unintentional but fatal injuries, can be convicted of murder if they acted with 'conscious disregard of the danger to human life'."
On September 22, 2008, the San Francisco Superior Court re-instated Marjorie Knoller's conviction for second degree murder. The court sentenced Knoller to serve 15 years to life in state prison, with credit for time served.