LOS ANGELES – The woman who raised the dogs that killed Diane Whipple says she warned their owners that the huge canines were dangerous and that one of the dogs "should have been shot."
Janet Coumbs, the first witness to testify in the trial of the San Francisco couple charged with Whipple's death, testified Wednesday she told Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel that one dog, Hera, was so unpredictable it should have been put down, not taken to their apartment in San Francisco.
"I told them Hera should never have been taken off my property," she said. "I was very concerned about it."
Defense attorneys sought to portray the dogs as benign creatures, eliciting from Coumbs her fondness for the animals and her belief Bane, the other 120-pound dog accused of attacking Whipple, was "a big clown" so gentle that he had his own pet cat.
But another witness, Donald Martin, a 49-year veterinarian who was called to Coumbs' farm, testified that he was shocked when he first saw the collection of presa canario dogs being kept by Coumbs. He was called to her farm to inoculate the dogs for rabies.
"I looked in and saw eight dogs, massive, massive dogs. I thought this could be a serious problem," Martin testified. "I felt it would be unsafe to handle them very much. These dogs could do bodily damage."
Martin, who had to inoculate the dogs through a cage, said he later wrote to Knoller telling her the dogs would be a liability in any household. Martin said he received a terse thank-you letter from Knoller.
Whipple, 33, a college lacrosse coach, was mauled in the hallway of her San Francisco apartment building on Jan. 26, 2001. The trial of her neighbors, Knoller and Noel, was moved to Los Angeles due to extensive publicity in San Francisco.
Knoller, 46, who was walking Bane at the time of the attack, is charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and having a mischievous animal that killed a human being. Noel, 60, faces the latter two charges. He was not home at the time.
With the judge urging lawyers to move the trial along, the prosecution's witness list for Thursday included Devan Hawkes, an expert on prison gangs who investigated the role of two Aryan Brotherhood inmates in a plan to breed war-like dogs.
Hawkes was scheduled to describe documents found at Pelican Bay State Prison indicating that inmates Paul Schneider and Dale Bretches had designed a Web site called "Dogs O War" to promote their business with the help of the defendants.
Coumbs suggested that she was an unwitting pawn in a scheme by Schneider to run a business raising the fierce dogs. She said he told her she would be breeding puppies for sale in order to finance her trips to visit him in prison.
But when she became attached to the dogs and encouraged the gentle side of their nature, she said that Noel and Knoeller took the dogs away from her and Schneider complained that he didn't want "wussy dogs."
In arguments outside the jury's presence it was disclosed that Coumbs is in the federal witness protection program, apparently due to threats from the Aryan Brotherhood.
Prosecutors also planned a parade of witnesses to recount bites and negative encounters with Knoller and Noel's dogs before the killing of Whipple.