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Criminal Law Keyed to Kennedy
People v. Marjorie Knoller
Citation:158 P. 3d 731 (2007)
CaseCast™ – "What you need to know"
The defendant and her husband, Noel, were attorneys representing a prison guard at Pelican State Prison. Through their work, they met an inmate named Schneider. Schneider was a member of a prison gang that sought to engage in a business of buying, raising, and breeding Presa Canario dogs, which tend to be very large dogs. They are typically used for combat and guard. The defendant ended up acquiring four of the dogs.
A vet told her that the dogs are huge and have had no discipline, and that these animals would be a liability in any household. The defendant thanked thanked the vet but ended up registering herself as the dogs’ owners and brought the dogs to her sixth floor apartment.
There were about thirty incidents in the span of a year in which the dogs displayed violent behavior. One time, defendant’s husband Noel himself suffered a severe injury to his finger when one dog bit him during a fight with another dog. The wound required surgery, and Noel had to wear a splint on his arm and have two steel pins placed in his hand for eight to 10 weeks. One day, the dogs attacked and killed a neighbor, Diane Whipple. An autopsy revealed over 77 discrete injuries covering Whipple’s body “from head to toe.” The most significant were lacerations damaging her jugular vein and her carotid artery and crushing her larynx, injuries typically inflicted by predatory animals to kill their prey.
A jury convicted the defendant of second degree murder. She requested a new trial, and the court granted on the grounds that second degree murder required a finding that she was aware of the high probability that her actions would cause another’s death. Because she testified that she was not aware that the dogs were violent, that she did not research the breed, and that she did not receive warnings about their threatening behavior, the court ruled that she lacked the required awareness. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s order granting her a new trial. It held that a second degree murder conviction can be based on a defendant’s conscious disregard of a likely risk of serious bodily injury. The defendant appealed.
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