- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2002

LOS ANGELES (AP) After last-minute courtroom fireworks that led to a defense attorney's rebuke, a jury began deliberating yesterday in the trial of a San Francisco couple whose dogs mauled a neighbor to death outside her apartment door.
Deliberations began nearly 14 months after college lacrosse coach Diane Whipple, 33, was attacked by the two huge Presa Canario dogs.
Marjorie Knoller, 46, who was walking the dogs, is charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and owning a mischievous dog that killed a person.
She could get 15 years to life in prison if convicted. Her husband, Robert Noel, 60, faces the latter two charges and could get up to four years.
The jury recessed last night.
Before the case against the husband and wife, who are both lawyers, went to the jury, Superior Court Judge James L. Warren clashed with Mrs. Knoller's attorney, Nedra Ruiz, regarding her efforts to interrupt the prosecutor's closing rebuttal argument.
"Take your seat now and do not get up again or your next objection will be made from the holding cell behind you," the judge told her.
Miss Ruiz had been trying to argue that prosecutor Jim Hammer was misinterpreting a piece of evidence. But the judge said Mr. Hammer was entitled to give his own interpretation.
During his closing, Mr. Hammer criticized Miss Ruiz for accusing the dead woman's lesbian partner, Sharon Smith, of lying on the stand. Mr. Hammer said he would not respond to Miss Ruiz's claim on Monday that he was trying to "curry favor" with San Francisco's homosexual community.
"I am not going to give Ms. Ruiz the dignity of a response to her charge," he said.
Mr. Hammer told the jury it was clear the defendants had ignored repeated warnings that their dogs were dangerous, and he reminded jurors of the more than 30 witnesses who testified about scary encounters with the dogs.
Outside court, Miss Ruiz said she believed pressure from homosexual groups had been responsible for charges being filed and the "outrageous bail" of $2 million for each defendant.
"Judge Warren caved in to political pressure," she said.
The trial was moved to Los Angeles because of extensive publicity in San Francisco.


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