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Whipple, Diane (1968-2001)  
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At the time, no same-sex partner had sued for wrongful death in California, and there was no specific provision for such suits in the state law. Based on the latter point, the defendants entered a motion to strike the complaint.

In August 2001, however, Judge A. James Robertson II of the Superior Court ruled that "reading the wrongful death statute to exclude plaintiff would unduly punish her for her sexual orientation. Such a reading has no place in our system of government, which has as one of its basic tenets equal protection for all."

The civil suit thus proceeded, and both it and a companion suit brought by Whipple's mother were finally settled in December 2002. The settlement was sealed by the court, and none of the parties disclosed the terms, but Smith announced that she would donate what she received to a foundation established in Whipple's memory to provide scholarships for women lacrosse players.

Shortly after filing the lawsuit, Smith testified before the California Assembly Judiciary Committee in support of AB 25, a bill to give same-sex couples many of the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual couples, including the ability to sue for wrongful death, as well as issues concerning inheritance, adoption, health care decisions, and employment benefits, among others.

The bill passed and was signed into law in October 2001, effective January 1 of the next year. Assemblywoman Carole Migden, who had introduced a version of the legislation annually since 1996, acknowledged Smith's contribution to its eventual passage: "Her presence [at the hearing] lent a real dignity to it. . . . . Her case brought the issue home to legislators."

Meanwhile, the criminal case was proceeding. In August 2001 the court had granted the defendants' motion for a change of venue, and the trial began in Los Angeles in February 2002.

At that point, Noel and Knoller were indigent. Noel was represented by court-appointed attorney Bruce Hotchkiss. Noel proved to be a difficult client, constantly challenging Hotchkiss's advice and attempting to frame the trial as the result of a conspiracy against him and his wife by the California Department of Corrections.

Knoller's parents provided funds for her legal defense. After hiring and firing several lawyers, she settled on Nedra Ruiz, who, in the course of her opening statement, shocked those present by dropping to her hands and knees and crawling around the courtroom floor in a re-enactment of Knoller's version (or, at least, one of them) of what she had done to try to save Whipple during the mauling.

Like Noel and Knoller, Ruiz sought to shift blame for the attack to anyone except the dog-owners, including, of all people, Smith. During her examination of the bereaved partner, Ruiz elicited the fact that Smith had not reported the December 2000 biting of Whipple to law enforcement, and suggested that but for that omission Whipple might still be alive.

At another point, Ruiz referred to Smith's "gay posse," alluding both to friends attending the trial to lend emotional and moral support and to Assistant District Attorney Hammer, who is openly gay. Ruiz charged that the motivation behind the trial was a political one to further the cause of gay and lesbian rights.

The state offered evidence of the gruesome nature of Whipple's injuries, brought in more than thirty witnesses who had been threatened by the Presa Canarios, and detailed the association of Noel and Knoller with Aryan Brotherhood members Schneider and fellow prisoner Dale Bretches, as well as the attorneys' role in the inmates' scheme to breed Presa Canarios and sell them as aggressive guard dogs. Jurors learned that only days after the attack on Whipple, Noel and Knoller adopted Schneider, who was only six years younger than Knoller, as their son.

For Hammer, "the scariest part of the trial, by far, was when Marjorie [Knoller] testified" in her own behalf. He realized that it was "completely high-risk" for him--"this big, tall, young" man--to cross-examine a middle-aged female defendant with a propensity for crying on the stand since if even one juror considered that he was bullying Knoller and therefore felt sympathy for her, a conviction might be in doubt.

Hammer handled the questioning deftly, however, establishing the crucial element of intent in Knoller's actions. Nevertheless, he "told [Smith] to find her own peace. . . . because if the jury came back with manslaughter, it was manslaughter."

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