LOS ANGELES – A sobbing Marjorie Knoller testified Monday that she struggled to pull her biting dog off Diane Whipple and threw her own body on top of the neighbor to protect her from the increasingly ferocious assault.
Knoller, who is on trial for second-degree murder, insisted that she did everything she could to stop the fatal attack once it began but could not get the dog to obey her.
"I was screaming. I was trying to get Bane to respond to me," she said.
"What was she doing?" attorney Nedra Ruiz asked about the victim.
"I can't say except she was lying under me," Knoller said.
And then, Knoller said, "She moved in a manner where she struck me in the right eye with her fist or hand and once she did that Bane bit her on the neck. That was the first time I saw any blood."
Knoller said she got back on top of Whipple and told her to stay down.
"I got back on top of her and I told her to stay down — 'He's trying to protect me,"' Knoller said.
"I was screaming, 'Bane, no. Bane, stop. Bane, off,' and he wouldn't respond to anything I was saying."
Knoller remembered details of how the attack began as her neighbor arrived at the doorway to her own apartment in San Francisco's Pacific Heights and began putting groceries inside.
But she could not say why her huge presa canario dog began pulling her down the hallway toward Whipple with such force that she could not control him.
Others have said that they heard Whipple screaming in terror but Knoller could not remember what the victim said.
"I can't really recall a lot of anything that was heard other than my screaming," she said.
"I've got memories of certain things I might have heard but I can't say for sure I heard them," Knoller said.
She then dropped her head and began to cry, saying, "Bane just wouldn't stop. He just wouldn't stop attacking her."
Whipple, 33, a college lacrosse coach was killed on Jan. 26, 2001. The trial over her death was moved to Los Angeles due to extensive publicity in San Francisco.
Knoller, 46, alone faces the second-degree murder count because she was present. She is also charged, with husband Robert Noel, 60, with involuntary manslaughter and keeping a mischievous dog that killed a person.
Knoller's sobbing increased as she told her story in the silent courtroom where Whipple's mother, sister and domestic partner sat in a front row listening. Knoller's parents also watched.
Her voice rose to nearly a shout as she cried out, "It kept going on and on like that, and it kept getting worse and he wouldn't listen."
She said she punched the dog in the face and put her hand in its mouth. The dog began to bite her, she said, but released.
Meanwhile, she said, a second dog, Hera, got loose from the apartment when she opened the door and it began running through the hallway barking. She did not describe Hera participating in the attack.
Ruiz asked what condition Whipple was in when the attack ended.
"Grave," said the defendant. "She had been bleeding profusely."
The judge recessed the trial at that point. Knoller was to return to the stand Tuesday.
Knoller immediately began sobbing when she took the stand.
"I'm feeling awful," she said. "Just thinking about the horrible way that Ms. Whipple died in that hallway causes me great sorrow and I'm in pain for everybody that knew her and spent time with her."
Knoller, saying she is Jewish and her family were Holocaust survivors, also denied being an associate of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, which the prosecution has suggested was involved in a plan to raise aggressive dogs.
Noel's attorney, Bruce Hotchkiss, rested his case after calling four witnesses. One of them, veterinarian Polly James, surprised the defense by saying she muzzled Bane before treating him because Noel said the dog was not good with people.
Under questioning by Hotchkiss she acknowledged that she didn't think she had mentioned the muzzle conversation in her notes on the case.