LOS ANGELES – Against a backdrop of bloody autopsy pictures, a prosecutor implored jurors Monday to convict two dog owners in the mauling death of a neighbor, saying they ignored the warning signs of their "time bomb" animals.
"There were earlier explosions but this time they killed a woman," prosecutor Jim Hammer said.
Jurors later heard a defense attorney suggest the prosecutor was trying to curry favor with San Francisco's homosexual community and that the victim's domestic partner lied on the stand. The case was expected to go to the jury Tuesday, following the prosecution's rebuttal.
Holding up a cast of the gaping teeth of the dog that killed former Penn State lacrosse star Diane Whipple, Hammer pointed to the defendants and said, "Do not let them get away with their lies and don't let Marjorie Knoller get away with murder."
Knoller is charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and owning a mischievous dog that killed a person. She could receive 15 years in prison if convicted. Her husband, Robert Noel, is charged with the latter two crimes and faces up to four years if convicted.
Knoller's attorney, Nedra Ruiz, suggested the prosecutor wanted to curry favor with the homosexual and gay folks."
Ruiz accused the victim's domestic partner, Sharon Smith, of lying when she testified that Whipple suffered a previous bite by one of the dogs and feared them.
"Sharon Smith has every right to sue for the wrongful death of her girlfriend," Ruiz said. "But she has no right to come here with false testimony and try to frame Marjorie Knoller for murder."
Smith's attorney, Michael Cardoza, fired back outside court.
"Not only was Sharon attacked, but the gay community in San Francisco was attacked. Sharon is taking it very hard," Cardoza said.
Noel's attorney, Bruce Hotchkiss, told the jury the mauling was a tragic but unforeseeable accident.
"It's a case full of passion and prejudice," Hotchkiss said of the prosecutor's argument. "You saw a lot of passion here this morning and the reason you saw a lot of passion is because that's all there is to this criminal case."
He presented a slide show of the dogs, Bane and Hera, with their owners at San Francisco tourist spots. He said no one was afraid of them.
Earlier, Hammer recounted a television interview in which Knoller was asked if she took responsibility for Whipple's death.
"And cold as ice, she said, 'No, she should have closed her door. That's what I would have done,"' Hammer said.
Hammer ridiculed Knoller's testimony in which she painted herself as a hero who tried to save the life of Whipple, 33, who was killed as she brought groceries to her San Francisco apartment on Jan. 26, 2001.
Knoller claimed she threw herself on top of Whipple to protect her from the Bane.
But it was too late by then, Hammer argued. He said Knoller and Noel should have known their dogs could become killers at any moment.
He showed jurors charts recounting the testimony of more than 30 witnesses who said Bane and Hera lunged at them, barked and growled, in one case bit a man, and terrorized people in their building and outside.
"By Jan. 26, it was not a question of whether someone was going to be mauled," Hammer said. "The only question was when and who and where. That is the issue in this case: What did they know before Jan. 26? They knew they couldn't control the dogs and they knew what the dogs could do."
Holding up the mold of Bane's teeth, he said, "With the size of these teeth and what these teeth have already done ... that is 100 percent notice of the danger of these dogs and it didn't mean a damn thing to them."
The prosecutor showed a picture of Noel's nearly severed finger, taken after he was bitten by Bane while trying to break up a dog fight. He also showed photos of Knoller's cut hands after Whipple's death. The defendant claimed the injuries were the result of trying to save Whipple.
"My mother gets worse wounds gardening," the prosecutor said. "Compare those to what happened to Diane Whipple."
With that, he projected on a huge screen the gruesome, bloody photos of Whipple's mangled neck, bitten arms and legs and crushed larynx.
Hammer said it didn't matter that Noel was not present during the fatal attack because he set events in motion by his earlier actions.
He said the entire tragedy began when Knoller and Noel became involved with two Pelican Bay State Prison inmates planning to raise guard dogs for the benefit of the Aryan Brotherhood, a violent prison gang.
"These prisoners didn't choose poodles," he said. "They didn't chose lap dogs. They wanted tough dogs. Presa canarios were meaner than pit bulls."
Knowing all of that, he said, Knoller and Noel agreed to raise the dogs.