October 16, 2001 - Trial for Attorneys Charged in Dog-Mauling Death to Move to L.A.
Los Angeles County will play host to the trial of San Francisco attorneys Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller, who are charged in the dog-mauling death of a neighbor.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge James Warren -- who will preside over the trial -- said Friday that L.A., because of its diverse population and security arrangements, would be the best trial site.
San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan, whose office argued for San Diego County as the change-of-venue choice, responded, "L.A. will be fun."
Warren also changed the trial date from Jan. 21 to Jan. 22, because the former is celebrated as Martin Luther King's birthday. He expects the trial to last up to two months.
Knoller is charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and failure to control a mischievous dog in connection with the Jan. 26 death of Diane Whipple.
Her husband, Noel, is charged with the manslaughter and mischievous dog charges. Both have pleaded not guilty.
One of Los Angeles' selling points for the judge was the nearness of Terminal Island, a federal secured lockup. Paul "Cornfed" Schneider and Dale Bretches, who are members of the Aryan Brotherhood serving life terms in state prison, are expected to testify at the trial.
Noel and Knoller have argued that Schneider and Bretches owned Bane and Hera, the two dogs involved in Whipple's death, and they were just the caretakers.
Knoller's defense attorney, Nedra Ruiz, told Warren that L.A. would be a more neutral venue. Whipple started her lacrosse coaching in San Diego, while Noel worked there as a federal prosecutor. Because of their local ties, both have generated local news coverage, the attorney said.
Noel's attorney, Bruce Hotchkiss, reminded the judge that a defense-commissioned survey found that 69 percent of San Diegans believe the defendants guilty. L.A. was not included in the survey.
"Los Angeles County is the only logical place for this case to go to ensure that defendants get a fair trial," Hotchkiss said.
Michael Cardoza, who represents Whipple's partner, Sharon Smith, in a wrongful-death case filed against Noel and Knoller, called the move to Los Angeles "a defense attorney's dream."
He said L.A. had a "horrific history" of criminal trials resulting in defense verdicts "à la O.J. [Simpson]."
Lead prosecutor James Hammer asked Warren to consider Riverside County over Los Angeles if San Diego were not his first choice.
After he heard the judge's ruling, Hammer said: "We're excited about going to trial."
There was a somewhat tense moment when Hammer and Warren got into a colloquy over the perils of L.A.'s vast media descending on the trial.
"If we really fear the media ..." Hammer started to say.
"I don't," interrupted the judge.
"I do," rejoined Hammer.
"Ever since I got this case, there has been no media frenzy," the judge replied.
"Wait until L.A.," the prosecutor warned.
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