I’ve been following the case of Margorie Knoller since it first broke in 2001, when I was still in law school. It’s interesting to me because it’s such a great demonstration of the different degrees of homicide and how politics distorts law.
The pertinent facts are that Knoller and her “partner” Robert Noel—creepy right-win types exiled in San Francisco—owned two Canary dogs, Bane and Hera, and wimpy Knoller lost control of Bane after walking him on the roof of their building. Bane killed Diane Whipple in a vicious attack that the other dog may have joined in.
The San Francisco DA was all over it. You see, Diane Whipple was a lesbian “murdered” by right-wing militia types with a “lethal weapon” of a dog. Even Noel got an involuntary manslaughter conviction for negligently leaving Knoller with two “lethal weapon” dogs she couldn’t control.
For those of you unfamiliar with San Francisco politics, just know that the gay community has significant political power, and it hasn’t always used it for liberal purposes. Just ask the health official who tried to close the bathhouses in the early 80s when AIDS was first detected.
At least partly recognizing that fact, the trial was moved to LA, where the jury nonetheless found Whipple guilty of murder in the second degree. This means that she “knew” her conduct endangered life, as opposed to engaging in behavior that was risky with life, or engaging in behavior that a reasonable person would have avoided—those are lesser degrees of homicide, often called manslaughter in the first and second degree or manslaughter and negligent homicide in some states.
The trial judge rejected the jury’s verdict and found that it was manslaughter. The California Supreme Court reversed and a new trial judge picked by—you guessed it—a San Francisco chief judge reinstated the murder verdict, refusing to put the case back with the original trial judge.
In my opinion this is political lynching. A manslaughter conviction is nothing to sneeze at. But to get it to be murder just because vicious dogs are a hotbutton issue or because these people were fucking weird and Whipple was well loved—that’s not the law; that’s not justice—it’s the mob.
The analogy in a law book might be using a lethal weapon in a way that someone would “know” endangered life. Perhaps shooting a gun in the air in a non-rural area. You’re not actually intending to kill anyone, but you know you could be killing someone and you just don’t care. But the difference here is that the gun is wholly governed by the laws of physics. Dogs are not. Even the best trained dogs don’t follow orders 100% of the time, and there is not a shred of evidence that Bane was commanded to attack Whipple; on the contrary, the evidence shows, and the conviction was based on, the fact that Knoller was UNABLE to control Bane and Hera.
Yes, anyone familiar with the breed would “know” that a Presa Canario/Canary Dog could kill a human under certain circumstances. I suppose my Yellow Lab could too if he was pissed enough and the person was weak and/or small enough, and I “know” that. And yes, Canarios are bred for security and viciousness, I know, I know, I know.
This is not a brief arguing that Knoller is innocent. She is not.
But she is not guilty of murder. This makes a mockery of what murder is. Murder is meant to punish intentional killings or killings that have an inevitable causal outcome of death. An animal as sentient as a dog does not operate like a physical machine; it’s not like shooting pool with grenades.
Anyone stupid enough to have these dogs in an apartment deserves to go to jail for animal cruelty alone. Anyone stupid enough to let them attack and then do nothing is a shitty person, and in this case a manslaughter. This person, Knoller, almost appears to not have a soul. She is a defective seed, and does not play well with others. And her “partner” was a real piece of shit too, Mr. Noel. But when degrees of crime and years in jail are based on whether someone is a piece of shit, things aren’t good. Being a bad person and having a bad character can make your testimony not credible, which can indeed get you locked up longer. But here, we have the facts and judges are saying different things about what they mean, and they are disagreeing because some people are considering more than credibility, facts, and law.
She’s all kinds of things. Just not a murderer.