LOS ANGELES – A woman who had admired one of two huge dogs that later killed a San Francisco woman testified Tuesday that she tried to pet the dog at a park but was frightened off by its behavior.
Cathy Brooks described how she bent down and placed her hand under the dog's mouth, but then saw the presa canario square its chest, flatten its ears and stare her down.
"I backed away very slowly," she said.
Brooks said the woman walking the dog, Marjorie Knoller, told her the dog was "sometimes good with people, sometimes not."
Brooks was among about two dozen people called by prosecutors to testify about their encounters with the dogs during the trial of the dogs' owners, Knoller, 48, and Robert Noel, 60.
The couple are charged in connection with the mauling death a year ago of Diane Whipple, 33, in a hallway of their San Francisco apartment building. Knoller, who was present when Whipple was killed, is charged with second-degree murder, and both are charged with involuntary manslaughter and having a mischievous animal that killed a person.
Prosecutor Jim Hammer said the witnesses' testimony showed that the owners knew the dogs were dangerous and disregarded the warnings.
Defense attorney Nedra Ruiz said outside court Tuesday that it will be important for jurors to remember that none of the prosecution witnesses filed any kind of complaints about the dogs.
"I think they will find significant the witnesses' testimony that the dogs were leashed and harnessed and restrained from touching anyone in any way," Ruiz said.
Defense attorneys have argued that the dogs' behavior was unexpected, and that Knoller was badly injured while trying to stop the attack.
One of the witnesses, John O'Connell, testified that one of the dogs lunged at his 6-year-old son when he was walking the boy to school. He said Noel yanked on the dogs' leashes and yelled something at them. On cross-examination, he said he thought he heard Noel mutter "sorry."
Derek Brown, a resident of the building where Whipple and the defendants lived, also testified Tuesday that the animals had lunged at him and his wife in the lobby while Noel strained to hold them on leashes.
He said it happened three times and he was going to report the dogs to the apartment management but never did. His wife, Violetta Pristel, said she never confronted the couple because she was intimidated.
The trial was moved to Los Angeles because of extensive publicity about the case in San Francisco.