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Exclusive: Our reporter's view from the Knoller parole hearing


Marjorie Knoller sits at a table during her parole hearing Thursday at the California Institution for Women in Corona. Photo: Ed Walsh
Marjorie Knoller sits at a table during her parole hearing Thursday at the California Institution for Women in Corona. Photo: Ed Walsh  

Thursday's parole hearing for Marjorie Knoller was in sharp contrast to the media circus that surrounded the trial and the many other hearings and appeals in the case. I was the only journalist present for the hearing, held in a boardroom at the California Institution for Women in Corona, about an hour east of Los Angeles.

I covered the trial in Los Angeles in 2002. It was moved south because of the overwhelming media attention in the Bay Area. But the change of venue did not wane the media's attention. All the Bay Area TV stations sent crews to LA to cover the story. Many New York-based national media outlets, both TV and print, jammed the courtroom, as well as overflow room that had a video feed of the trial. I remember that when the verdict was announced, the overflow room itself was overflowing. Reporters gasped when the second-degree murder verdict was handed down against Knoller.

The only people present for Thursday's hearing were the two parole commissioners, three prison employees, Whipple's brother Colin Kelly, and his wife, Cayce Kelly. Whipple's partner at the time of her death, Sharon Smith, her wife, and a representative of the San Francisco District Attorney's office were present through a video feed from the DA's office.


I had to fight to take the above photo of Knoller at the hearing. Last month, the Board of Parole Hearings approved me to take photos of just Knoller and only at a designated time during the proceeding. They would not allow audio or video recordings of any of the hearing. But at the last minute they told me that I could only take photos of the inmate if she consented. When Knoller heard that, she immediately said "I do not consent." I told the commissioners that the inmate had no right to refuse to be photographed and that it says so right on the Board's Web site. After the break, the commissioners checked and backed down allowing me to take this photo.

I had to fight to take the above photo of Knoller at the hearing. Last month, the Board of Parole Hearings approved me to take photos of just Knoller and only at a designated time during the proceeding. They would not allow audio or video recordings of any of the hearing. But at the last minute they told me that I could only take photos of the inmate if she consented. When Knoller heard that, she immediately said, "I do not consent." I told the commissioners that the inmate had no right to refuse to be photographed and that it says so right on the board's website. After the break, the commissioners checked and backed down, allowing me to take this photo.

Knoller's late husband Robert Noel told me once in a jail interview that the only thing that took the January 2001 dog-mauling case off the front pages was the 9/11 terrorist attack. He was correct, but months later the media attention only intensified.

During Thursday's parole hearing, Knoller said she didn't know her neighbor, Whipple, but found out everything she knew about her from the news media.

"This was extensively covered by in the media," Knoller said.

That may have been the hearing's biggest understatement.

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