Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS


Nedra Ruiz, Defense Attorney for Marjorie Knoller, Talks to Reporters

Aired March 19, 2002 - 13:33   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We mentioned that dog mauling trial in L.A. It moved there from San Francisco. Nedra Ruiz is one of the defense attorneys for Marjorie Knoller.

Now speaking with reporters. Again, deliberations right now under way for jurors there.


NEDRA RUIZ, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: ... in determining whether or not they brought vicious beasts into San Francisco knowing that they were vicious beasts. Because the evidence before the jury is very clear and overwhelming that Marjorie and Robert never trained these dogs to do anything but sit and walk obediently on a leash.

There are a lot of letters that the district attorney admitted concerning communications between Robert and Marjorie and two prison inmates. But as I told the jury yesterday, they can read those letters, all of them, and they should, because nowhere in those letters do Robert and Marjorie praise these dogs for being aggressive, or cruel, or vicious or mean. There is just no writing to that effect. There is no writing to the effect that the inmates themselves wanted these dogs to be trained to be vicious, or mean or aggressive. In fact, in writings that are before the jury, the inmates say that they are against dog fighting.

So really the issue boils down to whether or not from prior incidents involving the dogs, Robert and Marjorie knew the dogs were libel to kill or maple. And the incidents that were placed before the jury I don't believe support the burden of proof that is upon the jury.

There are situations, and I alluded to them yesterday, when the dogs actually got out of Marjorie's control. And those -- specifically those instances involve two mail carriers, who say the dogs ran up to her and him, and then stopped on a dime and never touched the mail carrier.

Another individual, Mr. Putek (ph), claimed one of the dogs got loose on the sixth floor and ran up on him, and stopped on a dime and never touched him. Mr. Ableman (ph) says one of the dogs jumped up on him, and he just tossed the dog off, and no harm at all occurred to Mr. Ableman. So even from these instances from people say, well, the dogs got loose, I don't believe that there is any evidence that Marjorie would know that even if these dogs were acting in an uncontrolled manner that they would hurt, or grievously injure or kill.

HEMMER: That's Nedra Ruiz, defense attorney for Marjorie Knoller. If you have been following this case, you know she is rather charismatic, somewhat flamboyant. In front of jurors, we have seen her drag pictures across the courtroom, and sometimes screaming at the top of her lungs to get her point across.

Let's talk with a reporter there, "San Francisco Chronicle," Jaxon Van Derberken is back with us, and he's been watching the trial from the very beginning.

Good to see you again, and good morning to you there in Los Angeles.

We talked the day the statements were presented in this case, and I'm curious, after you listened to Nedra and others, what is your take on attorneys arguing on both sides at times that were full of passion and full emotion in the sound bites we have heard.

JAXON VAN DERBEKEN, "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": Well, they were markedly different. There is the three attorneys we are talking about, Jim Hammer -- and actually four, when you count Kim Gilfonusem (ph). The four attorneys in this case were completely different.

Jim Hammer, the lead prosecutor on the case, albeit emotional, was somewhat short. You would say he would be brief. He seemed today relatively low key, although he did get emotional in telling his story of what happened to Diane Whipple in that hallway.

And obviously Nedra Ruiz is quite some people have said strident. Others have said committed and emotional. Whatever word you want to use, there is no question that Nedra Ruiz is in that courtroom, and today the judge basically had to tell her to shut up or he would lock her up.

HEMMER: We are looking at live pictures. She is still talking to reporters. Let's continue our conversation though.

Some of the testimony in this case has been flat-out brutal, and graphic and vicious when it comes to pictures. How have jurors reacted.

VAN DERBEKEN: Well, these jurors were told in advance that there were going to be graphic images, and they basically have been stoic, virtually no response from any jurors. No one turned away dramatically in any form or fashion. It seems like they knew what was coming, like the ratings in a movie, they knew what was going to come.

Now obviously, family members, Sharon Smith, and at other times, Whipple's mother, left the courtroom on advice from the judge about the graphic nature of what was going to be shown. HEMMER: Look at the charges here quickly, Jaxon, Marjorie Knoller in specific here, second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and owning a mischievous animal, a mischevious dog that killed a person. Is there precedent in your state for any of these charges that I'm discussing right now, and also how high is the burden for prosecutors, based on what you have heard from legal experts?

VAN DERBEKEN: Well, there has never been a murder conviction in a dog attack in California. There have been manslaughter cases -- there were homicide cases that were charged as murder, but the jury settled in two cases, one down in Southern California, and one in northern California, and the jury settled on manslaughter conviction.

For the people who had dogs and were either inattentive or didn't mind them properly, and while they were unchained or allowed to roam free killed children in both cases. There has never been a case in which there has been a murder case, a conviction, in this case. Manslaughter is what the prosecutors said they expected to get out of this case until the grand jury brought a second-degree malice case. They have to prove malice, or applied malice in this case, which means the person who owned the dogs in this case intentionally did something, namely walk the dogs, without a muzzle or taking due precautions, knowing the risks and consciously disregarding them. That's the standard for murder.

HEMMER: Take this question if you could, Jaxon. You heard Nedra talking about how in the past there were no indications that these dogs ever became aggressive. Was there any evidence entered in the trial that showed the potential for either dog acting aggressively, perhaps not killing a person, but having some sort of behavior that would lead one to think, you know, these dogs could be nuisance to someone at some point?

VAN DERBEKEN: Well, a nuisance isn't a standard. It's a danger to human life. And the prosecutors argue, yes, there was ample evidence of this. They cite now 35 incidents in which the dogs bark, lunged, growled, attacked. They said that they bit the victim, Diane Whipple prior, based on the testimony of her partner, Sharon Smith. They say that Mr. Noel had his finger nearly bitten off in a confrontation involving Bane and another animal.

So they say there is ample evidence to show the vicious nature of these dogs. On the other hand, the defense has produced not as quite as many, but nearly as many witnesses to say these dogs were good dogs, nice dogs, docile pets, loving. They'd go to dog kennels and they would just be fine; you know, they didn't attack anybody. The jury has to decide, you know, are these dogs have dual personalities, or what's going on here? That's going to be the key thing, what the nature of the dogs was, and what the defendants knew key thing, the nature of the do and what the defendants knew about it.

HEMMER: Jackson Van Derbeken, "San Francisco Chronicle," thanks. Again, jurors deliberating right now.


to Reporters>



Back to the top