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Jury cites couple's arrogance, indifference

Published Sep. 2, 2005

Jurors who convicted a San Francisco couple in the dog mauling death of a neighbor Thursday said the two were "arrogant" and repeatedly ignored warnings about their two huge animals.

The jury also said the second-degree murder charge against Marjorie Knoller was the last count decided.

"It was a painful decision," said Don Newton, 64, foreman of the seven-man, five-woman panel that convicted the couple in last year's death of Diane Whipple, 33. "The question of implied malice was a difficult question to decide, but we did decide there was implied malice in her actions."

Knoller faces 15 years to life for the murder conviction. She and her husband, Robert Noel, also were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and of having a mischievous dog that killed someone.

The jurors said they concluded Knoller and Noel ignored numerous warnings about the danger of their dogs.

"We decided there was not simply one action," Newton said. "It was a series of actions and failures to heed warnings."

While Noel wasn't present during the mauling, Newton said the jurors found that he was probably as responsible as his wife was for the events. "Robert Noel didn't seem to be a very nice person," he said.

The jury also said Knoller's three days of testimony didn't help her and were surprised she took the stand.

"From our point of view, her testimony was not believable," Newton said.

Jeanne Sluiman, 52, said the testimony had so many inconsistencies that the jurors had to go beyond it to other facts to reach their decisions.

That opinion was echoed by juror Shawn Antonio, 27, who said Knoller's stories were "so fabricated, it was difficult. She'd come up with 10 scenarios of what happened and the only other witness is no longer with us."

Antonio said that the jurors repeatedly reviewed a tape of a TV interview in which Knoller disavowed responsibility for Whipple's death.

"There was no kind of sympathy, no kind of apologies," he said. "It helped us a lot."

The jurors said they thought that if the defendants cared, they would have heeded the warnings of a veterinarian who wrote to the couple early about the danger the dogs posed.

"If someone wasn't arrogant they would have had to heed that warning," Sluiman said.

Noel didn't testify. During deliberations, the jury asked to hear a reading of his testimony to the grand jury that indicted the couple.

"It made it clear that he was not any different than Marjorie Knoller in this," Newton said. "He was equally responsible."