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Manibog: Murder by Dog Bite

  • By G. Monty Manibog
In a previous column, I reviewed, discussed and commented on the case of Marjorie Knoller who was convicted of 2nd degree murder by a San Francisco jury for her dog’s deadly attack on her neighbor, Diane Whipple, whose throat was ripped open.

Although there were no actual “specific intent” on Knoller’s part to kill Whipple, nevertheless, by keeping and maintaining a vicious attack dog on the premises of an occupied apartment building, a Presa Canario known for its killer instinct and favored by drug dealers as guard dogs, Knoller willfully and knowingly exposed her neighbors to the real possibility of her dog’s fatal attack on others.

Knoller also knew her dog had attacked and hurt others in the past so the jury “imputed” intent to kill Whipple by her “wanton and reckless abandonment of caution and complete disregard for the safety of others.” Under these circumstances, the dog’s vicious attack and killing of Whipple was deemed “foreseeable” and the “intent to kill was implied.”

However, despite the jury’s verdict of murder, the trial judge subsequently threw out the charge and conviction and found her guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter (which doesn’t require intent), sentencing her to four years in prison in 2002. She served two years and was released in 2004, halfway into her 4 year sentence.

Court of Appeals however subsequently reinstated the murder conviction and on further appeal to the Supreme Court, the case was remanded to the trial court for reconsideration. There, the original charge and conviction of murder was reinstated on May 22, 2008. Knoller was then rearrested and held without bail as a flight risk until her sentencing on September 22, 2008, at which time the expected sentence would be 15 years to life in prison.

Although there is now a final chapter to this “murder by pet dog” case, in many cases there is no direct and clear indication of the final outcome and this is especially true in the gray area of “implied intent” versus “specific intent.”

What you should look for to avoid a charge of murder in any activity you engage in is the “foreseeable” of serious bodily injury or death to others by what and how you engage in that activity, and recklessness and lack of any caution you display.

Maintaining a vicious killer dog, as in the Knoller case, is a clear example, just as if pointing and discharging a loaded weapon at a moving vehicle, at a crowd of people or an occupied building?

Even if you do not “intend” to kill or hurt anyone, you could be held fully accountable in civil and criminal liabilities for any “foreseeable” results of your “totally reckless and wantonly uncaring” demeanor.

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