SAN FRANCISCO -- A judge threw out a second-degree murder conviction Monday against Marjorie Knoller in the 2001 dog mauling that killed a neighbor, but let stand involuntary manslaughter convictions against Knoller and her husband, Robert Noel.
Though Superior Court Judge James Warren said Knoller and Noel are "the most despised couple in this city," he said the evidence did not support a murder conviction because Knoller had no way of knowing her dogs would kill someone when she left her apartment that day.
Knoller and Noel were arrested after their two huge presa canario dogs pounced on 33-year-old college lacrosse coach Diane Whipple outside her San Francisco apartment door on Jan. 26, 2001, as she carried groceries home.
Knoller, who was with the dogs at the time of the attack, was convicted in March of second-degree murder. She also was found guilty, along with her husband, of manslaughter and having a mischievous dog that killed someone.
Knoller, 46, could have faced 15 years to life in prison on the murder conviction. She and Noel, 60, now face up to four years on the other convictions.
A sentencing hearing for Knoller and Noel on the involuntary manslaughter convictions began less than an hour after Warren threw out the murder conviction. It was unclear whether the couple will be sentenced Monday.
At the hearing, Sharon Smith, Whipple's partner, tearfully told the court that Whipple's spirit "was too big for this world."
Addressing Knoller and Noel, she noted they are lawyers and said: "This has been a game to you. ... It is not a game to me."
San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan said he was unsure whether to retry Knoller on the second-degree murder charge.
"We'll try to get the maximum we can on the sentences that are left and then decide," he said.