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Marjorie Knoller Sentenced to Three Years in Prison

Aired July 15, 2002 - 12:48   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Live pictures now to the San Francisco courtroom where Marjorie Knoller is awaiting her sentencing. You may remember, she and her husband were convicted for the dog- mauling death of their neighbor, Diane Whipple. That happened about a year and a half ago.

Well, in March, both of them were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Robert Noel has been sentenced to four years in prison. But Knoller could now wind up in prison a lot longer.

We are going to listen in to what the judge has to say -- once again, sentencing right now for Marjorie Knoller is San Francisco.


JUDGE JAMES WARREN, CALIFORNIA SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE: ... jurisdiction, dated July 10, 2002, the people's reply brief regarding jurisdiction.

This morning, I received and I'm adding a faxed letter from Mr. Riordan dated July 13, 2002, a reply, and numerous letters from citizens regarding what should happen. Suggestions run from the imposition of the death sentence to outright acquittal.

I have very carefully considered the evidence produced in this case, starting with the grand jury, during the trial, all of the various pretrial proceedings that we had. And they were very numerous. I paid particular attention to the testimony of the witnesses who testified for the people regarding the -- their personal experiences with these dogs, with you and your husband. I have very carefully deleted consideration of any evidence that was admitted only against her husband, Mr. Noel. I'm only considering evidence that was considered by the court and by the jury as it relates to you. I have paid very close attention to the character and the quality of the comments of you during -- before the grand jury and during trial.

The court's tentative decision, based on my consideration of all of that, is as follows. And I am going to give you my tentative decision. We will recess briefly, if you wish. And then counsel can argue what they think the court's final decision ought to be.

First, the question about whether the defendant should be granted probation: Probation is eligible. The defendant is eligible for probation in this case. It is not statutorily precluded. I have considered the criteria set out in the California Rules of Court, Section 414: facts relating to the crime. In this case, the facts, the very first one out of the bat, 414A-1, the nature, seriousness and circumstances of the crime, the court finds are sufficient to deny probation.

Specifically, the circumstances of this crime are more serious because the defendant, Knoller, along with her husband, the co- defendant, knowingly inserted into society two massive, dangerous and unpredictable dogs, with the knowledge that, at some point in time, somewhere, somebody was going to get hurt by these dogs. I did find that you did not subjectively know, when you walked out of the door on January 26, 2001, that there was a high likelihood that somebody will be dead when you returned. The evidence did not support that.

But it clearly supported the main thrust of the argument in this case, namely, that you knew those dogs were dangerous. You knew you could not control them. You took them outside anyway. And it was clear, at some point, somebody was going to get hurt because of those dogs. It is also clear that you knew you did not have either the physical or the mental ability to control the dog Bane.

I have also considered the general objectives of sentencing set out in Rule 410, the primary considerations that are set forth in granting probation, as set out in Penal Code 1202.7, including punishment, deterrents, crime prevention, and uniformity in sentencing. Upon consideration of all of these factors, the defendant's application for probation will be denied.

I turn now to the prison sentence that should be imposed for Ms. Knoller on this case. I select count two, involuntary manslaughter, as the principal term in this case, because it carries with it the largest possible sentence. The midterm sentence in that case is three years. And that is the default sentence, unless there are circumstances either in mitigation or in aggravation that warrant imposition of the lower or the upper term.

Therefore, I am going to start by looking at mitigating circumstances as they relate to you -- I'm sorry -- mitigating circumstances as they relate to the crime. This is California Rule of Court 423. And there really aren't any mitigating circumstances relating to the crime. There are, however, mitigating circumstances that relate to you. That's 423B of the California rules of court.

You do not have a prior criminal record. Before this incident, you were actively involved in a full-time occupation, the practice of law. Under 408, Rule 408, I have considered the pro bono nature of the work that you have done: worked with prisoners, worked with other persons associated with the Department of Corrections. And I take note of the unsigned statement that I have in front of me that was submitted in connection with your motion for a new trial.

I also consider the following aggravating circumstances as they relate to the crime, 421A. One of them is that the victim was particularly vulnerable in this case. Ms. Whipple was in the doorway of her own home, a place of particular and unusual safety and sanctity, and was killed at that spot. Prior to receiving the unsigned statement, which, candidly, still says you are not really responsible for it, the court finds that there is no showing of remorse for the crime that was committed or responsibility for it.

I also consider aggravating circumstances as they relate to you under rule 412B. In that case, I find that, in your efforts to avoid responsibility for this crime, you knowingly committed perjury over and over again, both in front of the grand jury and before the trial of this action. Penal Code Section 118 provides that every person who, having taken an oath that she will testify truly before any competent tribunal, willfully and contrary to the oath, states as true any material matter which she knows to be false, as well as every person who testifies under penalty of perjury in any case in which the testimony is permitted by the state of California to be given under penalty of perjury, and willfully states as true any material matter which she knows to be false is guilty of perjury.

The court has -- I'm not going to go through the many places where I believe perjury exists in this case. I will, however, go to the grand jury testimony of Ms. Knoller that was given on March 23, 2001. I'll start at the transcript, page 747, line 13.

"Before January 26, 2001, did you ever see Bane bite another person?"


"Before January 26, did Hera ever do anything in your presence that gave you cause for concern that she might be a danger to another person or animal?

Answer: "No, never, never."

"Did you ever see, during that period of time, Bane lunge at any other person?"


"Did you ever, see during that same period of time, Bane be aggressive to any other person?"


There is -- on page 751, there is a statement. It doesn't lend itself to a very easy reading. But it points out the situation of a person who was bit in the rear end coming out of the elevator when you and your husband and the dogs were there. And there was a denial of any of those things happening.

The people have submitted a statement in which they contend that there are showings of perjury. The court's not going to go through all of those. The testimony that I read at the grand jury was reiterated before the trial jury, statements of never having seen anybody do -- or any dog do anything to any person. This was flatly contradicted, quite believably so, by all of the witnesses who testified as to dogs lunging, dogs snapping, dogs growling and barking, clearly putting you on notice that these dogs were dangerous and did acts that were dangerous.

Accordingly, Ms. Knoller, I sentence you to state prison. As I said, the principal term is count two involuntary manslaughter, because I find that, considering the totality of the circumstances, including all of the mitigating circumstances, that the aggravating circumstances predominate. You will be sentenced to four years in a state prison, which is the aggravated term. I have considered all of the factors in Rule 414A and B, 421A and B. And they compel a conclusion that the aggravating circumstances predominate in this case.

I will give you your credit for time served in just a moment. As counsel point out, with regard to count three, violation of Penal Code Section 399B, the ownership of mischievous dog that kills, the court finds that the conduct involved in this case is the same as the conduct which resulted in the imposition of this prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter. Accordingly, I am going to impose the aggravated term of three years in state prison, the aggravating term being opposed for the same reasons that I gave the aggravated term of involuntary manslaughter.

But I am going to stay execution of that sentence pending your successful completion of the sentence imposed for involuntary manslaughter, at which time the stay will become permanent. Ms. Knoller, you are entitled for custody credit days of 478 days. Your good conduct or sage (ph) credits equal 238 days. That's a total CTS calculation of 714 days.

Ms. Knoller will pay a fine of $5,000 to the victims indemnity fund for the involuntary manslaughter, plus $200 to the victims indemnity fund for violation of 399B. There will be a $200 parole fine, but that will be stayed pending your successful completion of parole. You will pay restitution to Sharon Smith, the partner of Diane Whipple, in the sum of $6,800. The imposition of that, however, is an obligation that is joint and several with your husband and co- defendant, Robert Noel. Between the two of you -- excuse me -- the judgment requires that Ms. Smith be reimbursed entirely for her damages of $6,800.

Counsel, that's the court's tentative ruling in this case. Would you like to take a recess so you can discuss this matter with your clients before argument?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, your honor.

WARREN: People?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're prepared.

WARREN: All right.

Counsel, do you wish...

PHILLIPS: Three years in prison is what the judge says. Marjorie Knoller will now face, as she sits in the courtroom there in San Francisco. We're going to bring in our Rusty Dornin. She's been following this story. She's on the phone with us now.

Rusty, are you surprised with what the judge had to say?

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN ANCHOR: Not really. You know, all along, this judge has expressed his extreme disfavor with these defendants. I think last time he called them (UNINTELLIGIBLE) despised couple in San Francisco. He called her -- Marjorie Knoller -- "a despicable liar."

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) said that the only thing that she has not lied about is the fact that when she came out of that apartment with those two dogs, she did not know they would kill Diane Whipple. And that, of course, was why he overturned the second-degree murder conviction, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). She would have had to know those dogs at that time were capable of killing a human being. He said that is the only thing that she has not lied about in this case.

So he gave her the maximum, as (UNINTELLIGIBLE) said, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) minutes ago. He applied aggravating circumstances (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Probation was denied. He gave her four years in prison for the manslaughter charges, also saying that she had committed perjury several times, before the grand jury and also in the courtroom, in particular lying about whether the dogs were dangerous, or whether they have never lunged or bit people.

So this really doesn't come as any surprise, although (UNINTELLIGIBLE) thought that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) go ahead and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and just put it in the state appellate court's lap. But it looks like he wants this out of his courtroom -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, Rusty Dornin, on the phone there, just outside the courtroom. Rusty, thank you.

We want to bring in our CNN legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin now.

Jeffrey, what do you make of this? Is this a fair sentence? Is it strong enough?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the most important thing is what it's not: It's not a conviction for murder. I mean this legal story is not over. The real issue here now shifts to the California Court of Appeals, where, just to refresh people's memory, Judge Warren, the trial judge, set aside the murder conviction, which I believe carried a minimum term of 20 years. The prosecution is attempting to have that jury verdict reinstated in the appeals court.

If the government wins the appeal, she will have much, much longer time to serve. With a four-year sentence, minus time for time served, she's probably not got more than another year in prison.

PHILLIPS: All right, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN legal analyst.

If you are just tuning in, three years in prison is what the judge has said now for Marjorie Knoller. You'll remember that about 1 1/2 years ago, she and her husband were convicted for the dog mauling death of their neighbor, Diane Whipple. Now the judge says her sentencing will be three years in prison. Robert Noel has been sentenced to four years in prison.




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