The case of the death of Diane Whipple, who was mauled by a neighbor's dog in the hallway of her San Francisco apartment in January 2001, made international headlines when it happened. And now, the woman deemed most responsible for Whipple's death, Marjorie Knoller, has been denied parole for a second time.
Knoller, 67, came before the parole board Wednesday after first facing them in 2019, and as the Bay Area Reporter tells us, the board denied her parole saying she still presents a danger to society. In making their decision, the board cited Knoller's disciplinary record in prison, which includes, ironically, biting a prison guard in 2016.
Prosecutors have repeatedly contended that Knoller never showed proper remorse for the killing of Whipple and her role in it. And on Wednesday, during the four-hour hearing that also included victims' impact statements, Knoller made a strange statement that also seemed short on remorse.
"I've always felt responsible for Diane's death, in terms of not being able to prevent it or help do more to prevent [the male dog] Bane from doing what he did and stripping her completely naked in that hallway," Knoller said. "But Diane seems to have gotten lost and her loss seems to have gotten lost in the publicity that ensued regarding this incident."
Also speaking at the hearing were Whipple's former partner Sharon Smith, who lived with Whipple in the building where the mauling occurred; Whipple's aunt, Roberta Whipple; and Cayce Kelly, the wife of Whipple's brother Colin Kelly. As ABC 7 reports, Kelly himself was unable to speak after becoming a motional during a lengthy delay before the hearing.
Longtime Bay Area residents will recall how the dog-mauling case and the subsequent trials of Knoller and her husband Robert Noel dominated headlines and local news broadcasts for months at a time, not to mention the national news.
The story itself was insane, and it involved a lot of pushback and victim-blaming by Knoller and Noel in the weeks after the mauling. On January 26, 2001, Knoller was attempting to take her two Presa Canario dogs out on the roof of the Pacific Heights building where she and Noel lived and had a small law practice. She encountered Whipple, her neighbor, in the hall, who was reportedly returning home with a bag of groceries at the time.
Whipple, 33, was a women's lacrosse coach at St. Mary's College in Moraga, and she lived with Smith, her domestic partner of six years.
Knoller and Noel were taking care of the Presa Canarios for a prison inmate whom they'd become close with through their legal practice, Aryan Brotherhood gang member Paul 'Cornfed' Schneider — who had allegedly intended to raise dogs for dog-fighting. A woman who had initially cared for the dogs, Bane and Hera, reportedly said that Bane had been aggressive and compared to the fictional Cujo since he was a puppy. Bane ultimately weighed 140 pounds, and Knoller could not physically restrain the dog when he lunged for Whipple.
Knoller claimed that Whipple struck her in the face during the struggle to restrain the dog, and this only enraged the dog further. Bane then reportedly lunged for Whipple neck, which was the wound that proved fatal.
As ABC News reported at the time, on February 2, Noel sounded completely remorseless in speaking to the press, and he was especially incensed that his and Knoller's personal relationship with Schneider had been reported on in the media — they had adopted Schneider as a "son" and he said they had become a "family unit."
Noel blamed the attack on Whipple's actions, saying she had moved in the wrong direction, or perhaps, as an athlete, she was giving off certain "pheromones" due to steroid usage.
Later, ABC News reported that the dogs had attacked other neighbors, and a letter surfaced that allegedly documented that Knoller and Noel had engaged in some sort of sexual activity with Bane, the male dog.
In 22 years' time, the impact of Whipple's death still lingers for her loved ones.
In her statement Wednesday, per ABC 7, Smith said, "There's no way to measure the full impact of that loss. It is with deep sadness that I share with you some of the impact this tragedy has had on my life. For years I was in shock. Much of my life became unrecognizable."
Smith went on to be a reluctant activist when she successfully sued for wrongful death as a domestic partner — in a pioneering case in California — winning a $1.5 million settlement from Noel and Knoller.
Knoller was initially convicted of second-degree murder in a Los Angeles court, after her attorneys successfully sought a change of venue. That conviction was reduced to involuntary manslaughter — the same charge that Noel was convicted on — and she was briefly out of prison in the mid-aughts, before another judge reinstated the murder conviction in 2018. Knoller was sentenced to 15 years for life, and she has now been up for parole twice.
The Board of Parole Hearings on Wednesday said that Knoller would next be eligible for parole in three years, when she will be 70 years old. She said, if freed, she plans to move into transitional housing in Sacramento and ultimately to Reno, where she says she has happy memories. Her husband, Robert Noel, died in 2018.
Previously: Remembering Diane Whipple's Place in LGBT Rights
Top image: Left, Marjorie Knoller in 2023, courtesy of the Board of Parole Hearings; Right, Diane Whipple in 2000