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Witness Talks About Defendants’ Dogs

March 7, 2002

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LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The operator of a transport service testified Wednesday that he delivered one of the two dogs that killed a San Francisco woman to a defendant in the trial and the other to a group that included men with prison tattoos.

James O’Brien said he was hired by Marjorie Knoller to deliver the dogs, part of a shipment of six massive Presa Canarios. Knoller and her husband, Robert Noel, face charges stemming from the mauling death of neighbor Diane Whipple by their dogs, Bane and Hera, on Jan. 26, 2001.

Earlier in the trial, prosecution witnesses spoke of the defendants’ involvement with two members of the Aryan Brotherhood, a prison gang, and of a plan by the prisoners to raise Presa Canario dogs for sale.

O’Brien testified he was hesitant to accept the job because he had never heard of the breed, but later learned they were Canary Islands dogs and were ``bred for fighting.″

O’Brien said he told Knoller that ``if they were aggressive we wouldn’t transport them.″

When he arrived to pick up the dogs at a northern California farm, he said they were on chains and were lunging. But the moment they were removed from the chains they became ``submissive,″ he said.

O’Brien then described arriving in La Puente, where he went to a house late at night and unloaded the dogs on the lawn.

``Several people came out of the dark because they were expecting them,″ O’Brien said. He said the group included two men with tattoos on their necks.

``It’s what I would refer to as prison tattoos,″ O’Brien said.

He said he left Bane there, and delivered Hera to Knoller in San Francisco.

O’Brien said the group included women and children. A woman named Rachel Huguez took possession of the dogs, he said.

Earlier, defense witnesses testified that Noel and Knoller were familiar figures in upscale San Francisco restaurants and shops, always with their dogs in tow.

Proprietors of area restaurants remembered well-behaved, quiet dogs that sat at their owners’ feet, under tables or tied to parking meters.

``They were regulars. They could be there three to five times a week,″ said Michael Beachnau, the proprietor of a restaurant on Union Street. ``The dogs would sit under the table. ... I’ve seen many dogs. There was no difference.″

Knoller is charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and having a mischievous dog that killed a person. Her husband faces the latter two charges.

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