LOS ANGELES – The owner of the dogs that mauled a woman once said one of the animals had been abused and was dangerous, a witness testified Monday.
Kelly Harris said she was walking her dogs in San Francisco's Presidio area in July 2000 when they encountered Marjorie Knoller with a very large dog she identified as Hera, one of the two dogs that killed Diane Whipple.
Asked by Assistant District Attorney Jim Hammer to describe the incident, Harris said the two Labradors she was walking began to circle the larger dog.
"The female defendant said, 'Please leash your dogs. You don't know how serious this is. This dog has been abused. He'll kill your dogs."'
Harris added, "She was very insistent and she sounded afraid."
Seeking to prove that the animals' owners had plenty of warning the animals were dangerous before the deadly attack, prosecutors called several witnesses who testified that the two massive presa canario dogs snarled, barked or acted threatening on different occasions.
The dogs killed Whipple, a 33-year-old college lacrosse coach, in a hallway outside her San Francisco apartment on Jan. 26, 2001.
Knoller, 46, who was present during the attack, is charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and having a mischievous animal that killed a human being. Her husband Robert Noel, 60, faces the latter two charges.
Defense attorneys for the couple say the dogs' behavior was unexpected, and that Knoller was badly injured while trying to stop the attack.
Rhea Wertman-Tallent testified Monday that two days before Whipple's death, the dogs became agitated by another dog across a street in their neighborhood.
"The dogs were reared up on their hind legs. Their teeth were out and they were lunging. I was trying to hurry to get away," Wertman-Tallent said.
Abraham Taylor said one of the dogs broke loose during another encounter and charged at him and the dog he was walking. He said he was able to force the charging dog to the ground.
Skip Cooley, who lived next door to the defendants, testified that one dog once lunged at him as he got out of an elevator.
He also said the dogs were normally docile toward him, but would became "attentive" toward his 5-foot-tall wife who weighed less than the 100-pound animals. Both dogs were destroyed after the attack.