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California Prison Guards' Attorneys Convicted in Dog Mauling

On March 21, 2002, a San Francisco, California husband and wife attorney team, Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller, who for years had defended prison guards at maximum security Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP), were themselves convicted of manslaughter when their two 120 lb. Presa Canario dogs attacked and chewed to death a lesbian neighbor in the hallway of their upscale Pacific Heights condominium complex in January, 2001.

At trial, a lurid interconnection was exposed revealing that the dogs had been attack-trained at a training camp hired by their actual owners - Aryan Brother affiliated life prisoners at PBSP - one of whom the attorneys had lately adopted in a rare adult adoption procedure. Yet a new twist emerged in October, 2002, when the attorneys were implicated in complicity with guards and guards' union (CCPOA) officials in the alleged earlier murders of targeted prisoners at PBSP by Aryan Brotherhood gang members. Two of the same guards were then convicted in federal court of conspiring to violate the civil rights of the victim prisoners; one of the guards had already served four years in prison for similar state convictions.

Attorney Marjorie Knoller was taking Bane and Hera, two Presa Canario dogs (a Spanish breed used to hold down bulls for matadors), who had been bred and trained at a Christian outreach program near PBSP to protect methamphetamine laboratories for their incarcerated owners, for a walk. While in the corridor of their posh condominium complex, the dogs broke loose and attacked neighbor Diane Whipple, a 33 year-old athlete and lacrosse teacher who lived in the building with her partner Sharon Smith. Puncturing Whipple's throat, crushing her larynx and ripping off her clothes in a frenzied 20 minute attack, Bane and Hera seemed driven by instinct to kill their victim. Although Knoller claimed she attempted to pull the dogs off, and was herself bloodied in the gruesome ordeal, her story had to be considered in the larger context of the history of these dogs and Knoller's and Noel's shadowy relationship with Aryan Brotherhood prisoners.

Many interactions in the lives of the attorneys, prisoners, drug dealers, and guards emerged at trial. It was alleged that Marjorie Knoller herself had sex with the male dog Bane. A theory was advanced that the dogs had been trained to detect women's hormonal odors which may have been present on the victim during menstruation. The very recently adopted son of Knoller and Noel, life prisoner Paul ("Cornfed") Schneider sent elaborate sensual drawings to them - artworks suspected by prison officials of containing coded messages to Aryan Brotherhood associates on the outside. A search of Schneider's Security Housing Unit (SHU) cell revealed nude photos of Knoller and letters relating to Noel and Knoller having sex with the dogs (which they referred to as "the kids"). Knoller later remarked that "threesomes are a pretty standard erotic fantasy," that she exchanged erotic letters with Schneider, and that she "flashed her breasts" in photos she sent him via "legal mail."

Schneider is himself yet facing a federal trial on racketeering and a series of murders orchestrated from behind bars, and is considered such a security risk (he earned his way into the Aryan Brotherhood by stabbing a guard in the neck) that police blocked off the Oakland Bay Bridge when his secure motorcade brought him from PBSP to San Francisco to testify at trial.

Part of the web woven in this case was the interaction between Noel and Knoller with PBSP guards and prisoners. For years, Noel and Knoller had defended (mostly unsuccessfully) PBSP guards in their grievances against the prison, including those accused of fomenting in-prison murders or shooting prisoners on the yard in staged "fights." When the state called Schneider to testify in such a case against Noel's client PBSP guard Jose Garcia, Schneider refused to cooperate. Schneider's dogs were bred and trained near PBSP under business relations monitored by the attorneys, who themselves had an insatiable fascination for this killer breed.

But the dog training appeared to be just a sideshow to a prison drug conspiracy involving guards and prisoners. The guards suspected of such dealings were themselves indicted and/or convicted of conspiracy with Aryan Brotherhood gangsters to seek out and kill child molesters at PBSP. In a current civil suit by the family of one of the murder victims, more guards and even CCPOA officials are being charged with conspiracy to murder a "shot-caller" who was rumored willing to rat on some of the involved guards [PLN, Apr. `03, California Guards Convicted of Arranging Prison Beatings].

San Francisco's vocal gay and lesbian community made such large public outcries about Whipple's murder that the trial had to be moved to Los Angeles. Noel was charged with keeping a dangerous animal as well as involuntary manslaughter in not properly restraining it. Knoller was similarly charged, but with the added offense of second degree murder, on the theory that she knew the constant danger her dogs presented to Whipple, but nonetheless allowed the killing to eventually occur.

Knoller's attorney Nedra Ruiz made headlines when she tried to reenact the sensational killing in front of the jury by lying on the floor and physically simulating the claimed protective actions of her client. Testimony came from neighbors who had been threatened by the dogs and of previous threats by Bane on Whipple. It didn't help Knoller that she had referred to Whipple dispassionately as a "mousy blond."

The jury found both attorneys guilty. In a first-of-its-kind prosecution, Knoller was found guilty of second degree murder based upon a theory of knowingly letting the trained attack dogs come in contact with Whipple, thus satisfying the "implied malice" element of murder. Her attorney argued in post trial motions to the judge that there was insufficient evidence to prove Knoller had the requisite "subjective awareness" to sustain the murder conviction. The court agreed, and sentenced Knoller on June 17, 2002, like Noel, to four years for involuntary manslaughter. The state is appealing her reduction. Noel is doing his time in Oregon.

Sources: San Francisco Daily Journal, Rolling Stone

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