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October 26, 2001 - Judge Denies Plea to Save Life of Dog in S.F. Mauling

October 26, 2001 - Judge Denies Plea to Save Life of Dog in S.F. Mauling

A state appellate court rejected the plea of jailed lawyers Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel yesterday to spare the life of Hera, one of two dogs involved in a fatal mauling for which the two await trial.

The three-judge Court of Appeal panel ruled unanimously that a San Francisco police sergeant held a fair hearing before concluding that the 120-pound Presa Canario was vicious and dangerous.

If unchallenged, the ruling would become final on Christmas Eve and allow San Francisco Animal Care and Control officers to kill Hera. A state Supreme Court appeal would prolong her life at least until early February.

Knoller and her husband, Noel, are scheduled to go on trial Jan. 22 in Los Angeles in the mauling death of their neighbor Diane Whipple. Knoller is accused of second-degree murder and Noel is charged with manslaughter.

David Blatte, the attorney who argued Hera's case for Noel and Knoller, said yesterday that no decision has been made on an appeal. But he spoke as if the dog's fate was sealed.

"She's not a vicious dog," Blatte said. "Unfortunately, we won't have the fair hearing to determine that."

Hera and another Presa Canario, Bane, were in Knoller's care Jan. 26 when Whipple, a 33-year-old lacrosse coach, was attacked and killed in the hallway of her Pacific Heights apartment building. Bane, considered the primary aggressor by police, was destroyed shortly afterward.

At the Feb. 13 hearing on Hera, both Noel and Knoller described the dog as gentle and docile -- a "certified lick therapist," in Knoller's words.

But another former tenant said Hera had bitten him, and an animal behaviorist with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said Hera reacted violently to her presence and had little chance of rehabilitation.

Upholding a Superior Court ruling, the appellate court said police Sgt. William Herndon, who presided over the hearing and sentenced Hera to death, had not been biased by the fact that the Police Department was conducting its investigation of Noel and Knoller.

Justice Ignazio Ruvolo cited Herndon's statements that he had nothing to do with the investigation and had not been contacted by anyone from the Police Department. Noel and Knoller offered only "speculation and surmise" that the officer could not act fairly, Ruvolo said.

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