Inside the Dog Mauling Trial

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, March 5, 2002. Click here to order last night's entire transcript.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN: The defense for the couple whose dog mauled their neighbor to death opened its case in California today. The defense maintains the couple had no reason to suspect their dogs were vicious and capable of killing.

Joining us now in an On the Record exclusive, the couple's attorney, Nedra Ruiz, who is in Los Angeles. Nedra, thank you for joining me this evening.

NEDRA RUIZ, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, thanks for having me. I should mention that Robert Noel is represented by Bruce Hotchkiss. I represent Marjorie Knoeller, his wife.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well noted. Thank you very much for that correction. OK, Nedra, what's your defense? The prosecution paraded a lot of witnesses in the courtroom to suggest those dogs were dangerous, and that your client knew it.

RUIZ: Well, none of those witnesses reported their complaints or their fear to Marjorie or Robert. And I think it's going to be very hard for the jury to determine or conclude that based on no warnings at all, these folks — well, that Marjorie and Robert knew that these folks — the dogs were dangerous.

The people in the apartment house didn't complain, not even the survivor partner of the tragically dead Diane Whipple. Sharon Smith never complained. There are some folks who have testified that they — they did warn Robert and Marjorie that they feared the dogs. And when Marjorie and Robert found out about that, they kept the dogs away from those folks.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did your client, Marjorie, ever see those dogs being vicious or snarling or...

RUIZ: Never.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... growling or...

RUIZ: Never.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... lunging at anyone?

RUIZ: Never. When Marjorie saw the dogs lunge at anyone, she had them on a leash and she had them under control. And, at least three or four of the witnesses who've come forward who lived at the apartment house testified that sometimes the elevator would open up, the dogs would lunge, but either Robert or Marjorie would be there immediately to pull the dogs back. And so neither dog ever touched these folks!

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, let me play devil's advocate with you because, Nedra, when you say that, the first thing I think of — if they're lunging on a leash, that at least that's some indication to Marjorie she's got a dog — my dog doesn't do that, for instance. So I have a very friendly dog. She doesn't lunge on a leash. If she did, I'd have some concern.

RUIZ: Well, these dogs were lunging because they wanted to go out for a walk. You know, these dogs were excited to see people and felt territorial, but they were under control. Robert and Marjorie had no idea that this tragic juxtaposition of events would take place and that Bane, this mastiff dog, would go berserk, drag Marjorie down a hallway and begin to attack Diane Whipple. No one regrets the tragic death of Diane more than Robert and Marjorie.

VAN SUSTEREN: What did your client actually do during the attack? Did she make any effort to pull that dog off the...

RUIZ: Well, Marjorie held onto the leash during the entire attack. She tried to pull the dog away. She tried to stop the dog from getting near Diane Whipple. When the dog began to attack Diane Whipple, Marjorie flung her body on Diane Whipple and covered Diane's body with her own in an effort to protect Diane from this berserk, crazy dog that she'd only had — you know, that the attack happened in January. The dog was being taken care of by Robert and Marjorie just since September.

Marjorie flung her body on Diane and tried to protect Diane with her own body. And Marjorie was bitten. Now, I know that the dog killed Diane, bit Diane horribly. But Marjorie put her body on that girl to try and protect her. And no one did more in those moments to protect Diane and to try and fight to save her life than Marjorie Knoeller.

And when the emergency technicians arrived at the scene, Marjorie explained what happened, that the dog had overpowered her, that she had flung her body on Diane to protect her. And the emergency technicians who responded found Marjorie stunned, covered in blood from head to toe, with her hand lacerated from having stuck it in the dog's mouth in an effort to beat him away...

VAN SUSTEREN: All right...

RUIZ: ...from Diane. And, the lady who called 911, Esther Berkmeier (ph), whose apartment is immediately opposite Diane's, reported and testified at trial that she heard Marjorie yelling out "No! No! Get off! Get off of her! No! No!" Marjorie did everything humanly possible. The only thing she didn't do was abandon poor Diane to these dogs. You know, Hera and Bane had escaped from the apartment and were barking hysterically. Bane was biting. Marjorie didn't run.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let me...

RUIZ: Marjorie stayed and tried to protect Diane.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we don't have a lot of time, and there's a lot of questions. I still want to cover a lot of material. But let me ask you some quick questions. You've taken a lot of heat for your cross- examination of the victim's partner, suggesting she had some responsibility. Do you stand by your cross-examination, or was it poorly worded?

RUIZ: I stand by my cross-examination. When I argue this case to the jury, they'll remember that question. I don't believe...

VAN SUSTEREN: What exactly did you say? What exactly were you implying?

RUIZ: I'm implying that Sharon Smith did not fear for her — is exaggerating or lying about an allegation that Diane was bitten, in December before the attack. Sharon Smith has described the wound in various ways. First she said it was a welt. Then she said it was a puncture mark. Then she contends that her life partner lived in fear to even use her own elevator. Her life partner, Diane Whipple, was afraid to go out into the hallway.

I don't believe it. I think that if Sharon Smith knew that...

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let me ask you...

RUIZ: ... that this trial had...

VAN SUSTEREN: Are you saying that Sharon lied about it? Is that what you're saying?

RUIZ: Yes, I am! I'm saying that...


RUIZ: ... that these folks — everybody in the apartment wishes that things were different, wishes that Diane was alive. So do we!

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let me...

RUIZ: And now they come forward and claim that they lived in fear, when as a matter of fact, the dogs were acting normally. Marjorie and Robert were controlling the dogs, and no one complained because no one had a thing to complain about! Now, of course, people come forward and say, "Oh, we lived in fear." We had a guy come forward to say he lived in fear, and we found a letter of complaint regarding the dogs. He had written the landlord that he was complaining about the dogs snoring! These folks did not live in fear! They lived in complacency!

VAN SUSTEREN: And unfortunately, Nedra, this is unlike the courtroom, where we can't talk about this forever. I'd love to do it, you know, and I have lots more questions. I hope you'll come back as this case goes on. Nedra Ruiz, thank you very much.

RUIZ: You're very welcome.

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