Notorious SF: Noel and Knoller

Memorial at Nicholas Faibish mauling location, Lincoln Way at 8th Avenue

Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller are the ghoulish attorneys tried for the dog mauling death of the vibrant athletic trainer Diane Whipple at this apartment building, 2398 Pacific Avenue at Fillmore. In what is described by a longtime San Franciscan as the most bizarre case since Patty Hearst's, Noel and Knoller's Presa Canarios, Bane, fatally attacked Whipple in Knoller's presence just outside the door to Whipple's apartment on January 26, 2001. In the days and weeks following the killing, Noel and Knoller made a series of bizarre and ludicrous missteps. They claimed Bane, who was put down by authorities after Whipple's death, was a sweetheart who had never shown his teeth while several independent accounts surfaced that the dog made previous attacks including one on a blind woman and even an earlier assault on Whipple. As Whipple's lesbian partner Sharon Smith became a sympathetic media character and an activist on behalf of rights for surviving partners of gays, Noel and Knoller suggested that perhaps Whipple was using steroids and that's what caused Bane to lunge. Next, the couple adopted as their son a client who's a convicted breeder of fighting dogs and the head of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, dared District Attorney Terrence Hallinan to arrest them, endured rumors about bestiality after photographs of Knoller and letters describing Bane's genitals were reportedly found in the prison cell of their new son, allowed an attack dog training manual to remain in plain sight of a TV interviewer, and frequently made insensitive remarks to the press such Knoller's that the incident was harder on her than anybody. Stories of the couple's icy behavior toward Smith following Whipple's death made the press and fueled antipathy against the couple. Noel and Knoller were charged with involuntary manslaughter and owning a mischievous dog that kills. Knoller was also charged with murder in the second degree. Like rejects from the Addam's Family, the couple looks every bit worse for the wear in courtroom footage. Both appear in orange prison jumpsuits. Frail Knoller with her stringy hair and blank stare makes court appearances in a wheelchair, unable to walk because of anxiety and illness say her lawyers. Noel with his round belly and gnarled mustache looks like he's seen better days, and probably has. The trial of Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller was moved to Los Angeles due to pretrial publicity. A second dog, Hera, was present during the attack and was cared for at the City's Animal Care and Control Office for just over a year before being euthanized less than a week after the first anniversary of Whipple's death. On March 21, 2002, the L.A. jury found Noel and Knoller guilty of all charges. Knoller's appeals focused on the representation she received from attorney Nedra Ruiz, whose bizarre persona rivaled that of her client. To demonstrate Knoller's claim that she attempted to intervene on Whipple's behalf during the dog attack, Ruiz got down on all fours during her opening statement to the jury. Her shrill and rambling speeches to the media were fodder for pundits and pushed the envelope of the court's gag order. After the trial Ruiz, who was reprimanded for her flamboyant courtroom antics by the judge in the case, San Francisco Superior Court Judge James Warren, admitted to making mistakes that could be used by Knoller to obtain a new trial. Following the verdicts, Knoller fired Ruiz and hired attorney Dennis Riordan, a veteran of more than 100 murder case appeals. On June 17, 2002, Judge Warren, grandson of the late Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, struck down Knoller's second degree murder conviction and sentenced Noel to four years in state prison, the maximum allowable sentence for involuntary manslaughter. Knoller was sentenced to four years for involuntary manslaughter on July 15, 2002. At Noel's sentencing, Warren called Noel and Knoller, "the most despised couple in San Francisco." Noel was released on parole on September 15, 2003. Knoller was paroled January 2, 2004.

The following spring, San Francisco was revisited by memories of the tragedy of Dianne Whippe's death when a higher court reinstated the 2nd degree murder conviction against Knoller on May 5. On June 3, 2004, 12 year-old Nicholas Faibish was mauled to death by one or both of his family's pet pit bulls in the Faibish home on Lincoln Way near 8th Avenue near Golden Gate Park.

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