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Whipple, Diane (1968-2001)  
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"Sharon believed that her lover hung in there just so she could hold her hand one more time, so she could say good-bye in person," wrote Jones.

The requiem Mass for Whipple was held at the campus of St. Mary's. Over 450 family members and friends squeezed into the chapel, and some 200 more were accommodated in a nearby meeting room.

The fatal attack on Whipple made headlines across the nation, and public indignation grew as more facts about the incident came to light.

The two dogs that mauled Whipple were Perros de Presa Canarios, also known as Canary Dogs after the Canary Islands, where the breed was developed. Originally used for dog-fighting, these massive animals are not only extremely strong but also very territorial, a combination that has in recent years caused them to be sought after by drug lords and gang leaders looking for imposing guard dogs.

Whipple was afraid of the Presa Canarios, as were many fellow tenants in her apartment building and other residents of the Pacific Heights neighborhood in San Francisco. One of the dogs had bitten Whipple on the wrist in December 2000. Her injuries at that time were minor, in part because her heavy sports watch had borne some of the brunt of the impact.

Following the fatal attack, more than forty people contacted the San Francisco Police Department to report previous incidents of aggression by the Presa Canarios against themselves, their children, or their dogs. None of them had spoken up before, in part because they felt intimidated by the dogs' owners, Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller, a married couple who were attorneys in joint practice.

Noel and Knoller took a special interest in representing convicted felons and filing lawsuits against the state of California on their behalf. Among their clients was Paul Schneider, a white supremacist and member of the Aryan Brotherhood. It was Schneider who, while behind bars, initiated and financed the project of acquiring and breeding Presa Canarios.

After Whipple's death, Noel and Knoller spoke to the press and appeared on television shows seemingly at every opportunity, with the apparent goal of exonerating themselves. On Good Morning America in February 2001, Knoller--incredibly--stated, "I wouldn't say it was an attack. Bane [the 120-pound male Presa Canario] was just overly interested in Ms. Whipple." Noel, appearing on Prime Time Live, insisted that Bane "was a really gentle dog." Such comments--so clearly at variance with the facts--combined with the couple's complete lack of expression of regret or remorse, shocked journalists and viewers alike.

Both Presa Canario dogs had been seized immediately following the mauling, and Bane, the animal who had inflicted the fatal wounds, was euthanized the same day. Hera, the slightly smaller female, was held by San Francisco Animal Care and Control (ACC), pending the outcome of a dangerous dog hearing.

There was public outcry both from people who wanted the second dog destroyed immediately and from others who called for her to be spared. Some in the latter category were well-meaning individuals who hoped to adopt and rehabilitate the dog, but others threatened to bomb the shelter if the animal was put down. In response, the ACC had to install new security systems. In January 2002, after the dangerous dog hearing, Hera was euthanized.

The case was rapidly turning into a media circus, but District Attorney Terence Hallinan and Assistant District Attorney Jim Hammer were determined to bring the people responsible for Whipple's death to justice.

After evaluating the evidence collected by the San Francisco Police Department, the California Department of Corrections, and investigators for the District Attorney's own office, Hallinan and Hammer reviewed case-law relating to instances of fatal dog-maulings. Murder convictions for such incidents had been obtained in Ohio and Kansas, but there had never been a charge of murder in a California case.

Nevertheless, Hallinan considered the precedents strong and the evidence in the Whipple case compelling, and so, in March 2001, he initiated grand jury proceedings to bring a charge of second-degree murder against Knoller, who was present during the attack, and an involuntary manslaughter charge against Noel.

Only days after the district attorney asked the grand jury to make a precedent-setting finding, Smith took a courageous step for equality for lesbian and gay couples: supported by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and private attorneys Michael Cardoza and Robert Lazo, she filed a civil suit for wrongful death against Knoller and Noel, as well as the owners and manager of the apartment building, to whom residents had complained about the aggressive behavior of the dogs and the potential danger that they represented.

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