- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

LOS ANGELES (AP) A dog fancier testifying at the trial of a San Francisco couple whose dogs fatally mauled a neighbor said yesterday that she once tried to befriend one of the animals at a park but was scared off by its behavior.
Cathy Brooks was among more than a dozen people who have had encounters with the dogs and have been called by prosecutors to testify in the trial of Marjorie Knoller, 48, and Robert Noel, 60.
The couple are on trial in the mauling death a year ago of Diane Whipple, 33, in a hallway of their San Francisco apartment building.
Miss Brooks testified that she asked Mrs. Knoller, who was walking the dog, if it was friendly and was told that "the dog was questionable sometimes good with people, sometimes not."
She said that when she bent down and placed her hands under the dog's mouth, "the dog squared off her chest and made an aggressive stance … I backed away very slowly."
Miss Brooks said Mrs. Knoller rolled her eyes and shrugged.
A few weeks later, she said, she saw a second dog being walked by Mr. Noel. She approached him and mentioned that she had met the other dog.
She said Mr. Noel told her, "My dog is not friendly."
She said she asked him why the dog was not muzzled or restrained with a choke collar and why he was walking in an area where other dogs were allowed off their leashes.
"He said he could walk his dog anywhere" he pleased, she said.
Derek Brown, a resident of the building where the defendants lived, testified that the animals had lunged at him and his wife in the lobby while Mr. Noel strained to hold them on leashes.
"The dogs continued to go berserk at us and I uttered [a profanity] and the man kept walking and said, 'Oh, they're friendly,'" Mr. Brown said. "We were left there stunned and amazed."
He said it happened two other times and he and his wife were going to report the dogs to the apartment management but never did.
Miss Brooks and Mr. Brown were aggressively cross-examined by Mrs. Knoller's attorney, Nedra Ruiz, who sought to shift blame to the witnesses.
In Mr. Brown's case, she suggested that he incited the dogs' behavior by fleeing from them. Mr. Brown said he knew better.
Mrs. Knoller, 46, who was present when the dogs killed Miss Whipple, is charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and having a mischievous animal that killed a human being. Her husband, Mr. Noel, 60, faces the latter two charges.
Defense attorneys for the couple say that the dogs' behavior was unexpected, and that Mrs. Knoller was seriously injured while trying to stop the attack.
The trial was moved to Los Angeles because of heavy publicity in San Francisco.


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