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Couple charged in fatal dog attack

SAN FRANCISCO — A couple caring for two dogs that mauled a woman to death in a case that horrified the city were indicted by a grand jury Tuesday night on charges including second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.

The couple, Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel, were caring for two rare Presa Canario dogs in their apartment on behalf of a 38-year-old prison inmate whom they had adopted as their son, when at least one of the dogs attacked and killed their next-door neighbor, Diane Whipple, 33, on Jan. 26 in a hallway as she was trying to enter her apartment.

The grand jury Tuesday charged Knoller, who was entering her apartment with the dogs when the attack occurred, with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and failure to control a mischievous animal that causes a death.

If convicted on all counts, she could receive 15 years in prison. Noel was indicted for involuntary manslaughter and failure to control a mischievous animal that causes a death.

Terence Hallinan, the San Francisco district attorney, said he was asking for $2 million bail for Knoller and $1 million for Noel.

The couple, who both are lawyers, have denied knowing that the dogs had a history of aggression. But the authorities said that the dogs were raised as part of a dog-fighting ring run out of Pelican Bay State Prison by the inmates Paul Schneider and Dale Bretches, members of the white supremacist group the Aryan Brotherhood. Prison officials said the dogs were trained to guard criminal operations like methamphetamine labs.

Knoller, 45, and Noel, 59, had adopted Schneider, who is serving a life sentence without parole for robbery and attempted murder, in a procedure that became official three days after the death of Whipple, a lacrosse coach formerly of Manhasset, N.Y.

In a letter to Hallinan, Noel blamed Whipple for the attack, suggesting that she should have gone inside her apartment and stayed there when the dogs began mauling her. He also speculated in his letter that the attack might have been brought on by pheromone-based cosmetics Whipple might have been wearing, or that she might have used steroids that could have attracted the dogs.

The 19-member grand jury heard testimony from 39 witnesses, including the couple.

Knoller had an anxiety attack while testifying and had to be assisted by paramedics.