LOS ANGELES – Two dogs that mauled a San Francisco woman to death were cooperative and not particularly aggressive during examinations months before the fatal attack, two veterinarians testified Wednesday.
The witnesses were called by the defense in the trial of Marjorie Knoller and her husband, Robert Noel, in the death of neighbor Diane Whipple by their two big presa canario dogs, Bane and Hera.
"Hera was a little bit shy. She was quiet," veterinarian Sheila Segurson testified.
She said the dog was underweight and not in particularly good shape when it was brought in for evaluation of a heart murmur.
During the examination, Segurson said, "She did very well. She didn't have any problem."
But the veterinarian added during questioning by defense attorney Nedra Ruiz that she evaluated the dog's temperament to guard against being bitten.
"What I did conclude was she was a shy dog and a timid dog and somewhat fearful," she said.
"When I see a large dog that is shy and timid that can lead to aggression," Segurson added.
On cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Jim Hammer, Segurson said that descriptions of Hera's behavior at home -- lunging and snarling at residents of the apartment building and biting one man — indicated serious aggression.
"Does this sound like a serious warning sign," asked Hammer.
"Yes," said the witness.
Veterinary surgeon Andrew Sams testified that he operated on the dog Bane for knee problems and had no problem with him.
Asked to evaluate Bane's temperament, he said, "I'm a surgeon, not a behaviorist."
He said he told the defendants that Bane suffered from hip problems as well and was not a good candidate to be bred.
Hera and Bane killed Whipple, 33, a college lacrosse coach, on Jan. 26, 2001, as she tried to enter her apartment across the hallway from where Noel and Knoller live. The case was moved to Los Angeles because of pretrial publicity.
Knoller is charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and having a mischievous dog that killed a person. Her husband faces the latter two charges.
Defense witnesses testified Tuesday that the dogs were well behaved and gentle when they walked with their owners to a copy shop and restaurant.
"I thought she was beautiful," San Francisco Brewing Co. waitress Antoinette Creyer said of Hera.
She said she told Noel that Bane was "a good dog" who took treats from her hand.
"The dogs were normal. They didn't behave any differently than a normal, friendly dog did," said Allan Paul, owner of the San Francisco Brewing Co., where the couple often sat out front with their dogs beside them.
Christopher Monica, who worked at Mail Boxes Etc., said the couple often copied legal documents while one of the dogs would sit at their feet.
"I pet the dog on a couple of occasions," he said.
On cross-examination, witnesses said they never saw the dogs at the Pacific Heights apartment house where the couple lived. Tenants have testified the huge dogs terrorized them, lunging and snarling.
Bonnie Seats, a friend of the dog owners, told of meeting the couple and Hera outside their apartment building. She said she got down on her knees and petted the dog, which licked her hand. She said her niece, who was seven months pregnant, did the same.
"She was a sweet dog," said Seats. "She was wagging her tail and loving the attention."