Defense Lawyer Blames Gay Community for Dog Mauling's Publicity

A defense lawyer in the dog mauling case has accused prosecutors of trying to "curry favor" with homosexuals and has said the judge "caved in to political pressure," but gay leaders and activists say such statements are absurd.

During her courtroom antics that included crawling on all fours, Nedra Ruiz has brought up the gay card in various ways throughout the trial in Los Angeles. Her client, Marjorie Knoller, is charged with murder after the dog she and husband Robert Noel were caring for fatally mauled neighbor Dianne Whipple, a lesbian, in the hallway of their San Francisco apartment building.

The jury reached verdicts on four of the five counts Wednesday and will resume deliberations Thursday.

"There was a drumbeat for prosecution in this case by the gay community," Ruiz said outside the courthouse Tuesday, adding that Assistant District Attorney Jim Hammer may want "to curry favor with the homosexual and gay folks who are picketing ... and demanding justice for Diane Whipple."

Hammer refused to respond to her claims.

But others in San Francisco, a city known for its large, vocal gay community, said they were offended by the comments.

"I think it's indicative of the weakness of the defense's case. She has nothing else to play, so the last card is the orientation card," said San Francisco Supervisor Mark Leno, poised to become one of the first openly gay men in California's Legislature if he wins an Assembly seat in November. "This is adding insult to injury at this point."

Leno also said he sees it as part of the defense's strategy.

"It's an attempt to play to potential homophobia among jurors," he said. "It's a great injustice to the facts of the case."

Ruiz claims Knoller has become a scapegoat for years of injustice suffered by gays and lesbians.

Knoller, 46, who was walking the dog at the time of the attack, was charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and owning a mischievous dog that killed a person. Noel, 60, faces the latter two charges.

Ruiz did not immediately return a phone call Wednesday.

Michael Cardoza, who is representing Whipple's partner, Sharon Smith, said Ruiz's tactics are desperate, diversionary attempts to help Knoller.

"It's horribly offensive to both the straight community and the gay community," he said. "It shows how ridiculous she is. Whatever thought comes into her mind, as quickly as it comes in, it's uttered. I feel sorry for her."

Assemblywoman Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, a lesbian who authored a law allowing domestic partners to file wrongful death suits, said Ruiz will not change the public's opinion of Noel and Knoller.

"I think it drives people further into our arms. It just is incredible," she said. "I don't believe any aspect of this case has frankly met with public support."