SAN FRANCISCO — Although it hasn’t yet been requested, District Attorney Terence Hallinan said Wednesday that he won’t oppose any attempt to move the trial of Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel in the dog mauling death of Diane Whipple.
“We don’t intend to fight a change of venue,” he said. “We want a speedy trial.”
The two lawyers charged in the dog mauling death of their neighbor had their arraignment postponed for a third time Wednesday while they continued to seek legal counsel, a tactic that riled prosecutors.
Knoller and Noel appeared before Judge Herbert Donaldson, who continued their arraignment until May 9. Hallinan bristled at another delay in prosecuting the couple in the high-profile case.
“Under the California Constitution, the people have a right to a speedy trial,” Hallinan told the court. “I don’t see why we can’t go ahead with the arraignment at this point.”
Knoller faces a second-degree murder charge in the Jan. 26 death of Diane Whipple. Knoller and Noel both face charges of involuntary manslaughter and keeping a mischievous dog that killed a human being.
Jan Lecklikner, the public defender representing Knoller, said her client was in the final stages of negotiations with a private attorney and told the judge that should be resolved by May 9.
“I’m working 24-7 on this case,” Lecklikner said. “No time is being wasted.”
Knoller and Noel never turned to face Whipple’s partner, Sharon Smith, who was seated in the front row. Behind Smith sat several members of Whipple’s St. Mary’s College lacrosse team, dressed in matching red practice T-shirts.
Smith and the team members shared hugs, consoled each other and fixed their gaze on Knoller and Noel when the couple entered the courtroom.
Smith and Whipple’s mother, Penny Whipple-Kelly of Fairfield County, Conn., have filed wrongful death suits against the couple.
Kate Kendell, a lawyer with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, is representing Smith and arguing that she is entitled to pursue such a claim as would a surviving spouse or relative.
Kendell said the arraignment delays would work against her case by dulling the public outrage against Knoller and Noel.
“I think it will be very easy for public sentiment and public empathy to be reignited when once again proceedings get underway that really delve into the actual facts and the gruesome nature of what happened to Diane Alexis Whipple,” Kendell said.
Knoller, 45, and Noel, 59, remain in jail in lieu of bail. Knoller, who faces a possible sentence of 15 years to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder, is being held on $2 million bail. The bail for Noel is $1 million.
The couple was caring for the two Presa Canario-mastiffs when the dogs — a 120-pound male named Bane and a 113-pound female named Hera — fatally mauled Whipple, 33, a lacrosse coach.
Current law makes owning a mischievous animal that kills a person a felony punishable by up to three years in prison. A bill introduced by state Assemblywoman Carol Migden, D-San Francisco, would hold an animal’s caretaker responsible for such an animal’s actions — even if they’re not the owner.
Migden’s bill got unanimous approval Tuesday from the Public Safety Committee and next goes to the Appropriations Committee that Migden chairs.
Prison officials say the animals were part of a dogfighting ring run out of Pelican Bay State Prison by inmates Paul Schneider and Dale Bretches, who are serving life sentences without parole.
In one of the case’s many strange twists, Noel and Knoller adopted Schneider as their son in a procedure that became official just three days after Whipple’s death.