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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Interview with Michael Cardoza

Aired June 18, 2002 - 07:07   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Now, to that stunning turn of events in a California courtroom yesterday, where a judge tossed out Marjorie Knoller's second-degree murder conviction, this in the dog mauling death of Diane Whipple. The decision was met with anger from prosecutors, and they let their feelings be known yesterday in court, and also those closest to the victim as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHARON SMITH, DIANE WHIPPLE'S PARTNER: I just stood up from a juror's chair, and I am wondering what value that seat really has. I never would imagine myself in this position giving a victim impact statement. But the past 17 months have been filled with things that I never would have imagined or never would have wished for.

JAMES HAMMER, PROSECUTOR: What's most disappointing and disconcerting to us is that 19 San Franciscans, the grand jury, very independently went through the evidence and decided on their own to add murder to Ms. Knoller. That was ratified by 12 people in Los Angeles in a fair trial. And to have a judge play the 32nd juror and take it away from all of them, based on his read of the credibility of Marjorie Knoller, is more than shocking to us, really.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HEMMER: As of yesterday, Knoller's involuntary manslaughter conviction still stands, and she still faces the same four-year sentence her husband received yesterday, when her sentencing takes place expected right now in mid-July.

Earlier today, I talked with Michael Cardoza, the attorney for Whipple's partner, Sharon Smith, about the surprise ruling from yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HEMMER (on camera): Michael, did you have any indication walking into court yesterday that the outcome would be the way it went?

MICHAEL CARDOZA, SHARON SMITH'S ATTORNEY: No. In fact, about a week before we went into court, I sat down with Sharon, and I explained the possibilities. I did explain that as one possibility, but we certainly didn't dwell on it. Not for a second did I think the judge would do that. HEMMER: The judge says that second-degree murder, as defined by California state law, was simply not met. What evidence did not convince him apparently throughout this trial?

CARDOZA: Well, certainly I'd be speculating as to what evidence did not convince him. But I think what's important is at the end of the people's case, at the end of the district attorney's case, the judge had an opportunity to dismiss the case or to dismiss the second- degree murder charges, if he thought there was not enough evidence, and he didn't do it then.

So it surprises me, because nothing changed between then and yesterday. So I am wondering, well, what changed? Why didn't you do it then? You had the opportunity to do it then. Why did you string everybody out?

HEMMER: As you play this trial back in your mind, think about the relationship you had with the judge throughout the case. Did you think he had handled it in the way that you thought all along in terms of going along with your arguments? And if so, as you replay that tape in your mind, at what point do you come to and say, you know what? Maybe that was the point that he was deciding on.

CARDOZA: Well, apparently from yesterday's statement by the judge, he said he did not believe a word that Marjorie Knoller said, except when she said on the stand that "I didn't know what those dogs would do." He said yesterday in court, "I believed her when she said that."

But notwithstanding that, then at the end of the defense's case, he could have dismissed the second-degree murder charge, but he didn't do it even then. He went this far. The only thing that I can think is that he was hoping that the jury would bring back less than a second-degree murder. When they didn't, it was incumbent upon him, in his own mind, to then dismiss the second, but that doesn't make much sense to me.

HEMMER: Robert Noel will get four years in prison. We will find out for Marjorie Knoller in about possibly mid-July. Why is four years of jail time...

CARDOZA: Oh, I can pretty much tell you...

HEMMER: Why is four years of jail time not enough for her?

CARDOZA: Well, certainly it's not enough, because there is a death. Diane Alexis Whipple is dead. Ask anybody that has ever lost a family member, a loved one, a friend, would four years be enough for that loss? Absolutely not.

Diane Alexis Whipple got the death penalty, because of the negligence, the criminal negligence of those people, Noel and Knoller. Because of what they did, keeping those two dogs in a San Francisco apartment owned by Dr. Koppl, Diane Alexis Whipple is dead. She got the death penalty. She will never be with us again. Those people will be out in less than a year now. They will be out of jail in less than a year, moving on with their life.

HEMMER: Do you think within 12 months, Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel will be walking the streets of California again?

CARDOZA: Oh, I know that's going to happen. In California, if you get a four-year sentence, when you are in state prison, you get two days for every one you're in. So you serve half the time.

HEMMER: Go back to my previous question...

CARDOZA: So they will serve two years.

HEMMER: ... about the trial itself and the other (ph).

CARDOZA: Sure.

HEMMER: Is it possible that the fact that California has never seen a case like this, is that what helped contribute to the judge's decision yesterday?

CARDOZA: Well, I am sure it did in part help contribute to it, but so what? So what if there wasn't another conviction in California? Does that mean they, in this circumstance or those circumstances, didn't commit a second-degree murder? Gee, it's never happened before, so it can't happen.

A jury, a grand jury in San Francisco brought back an indictment of second-degree murder against Marjorie. The Los Angeles jury of 12 people brought back a guilty verdict in the second-degree murder. Why shouldn't it stand? I think it's awful that a judge at this time stepped in and took justice away from Sharon Smith and the rest of California. He took justice away from the people.

HEMMER: Quickly, how is she doing today? She says justice was undone yesterday.

CARDOZA: Well, she is doing awful. I mean, it was the hardest thing she has gone through. She had to endure the death of her mate. She then had to endure a trial, waiting forever to get to a trial. She got some sense of justice when the jury brought back the second- degree murder verdict. She was able to live with that and digest that. And then yesterday, it was snatched from her. So she is not doing well at all.

HEMMER: Michael Cardoza, thank you for your time in California.

CARDOZA: You're welcome.

HEMMER: And a bit later, we are going to get another perspective on the developments out in California. The D.A. will be our guest in the 9:00 a.m. hour here on AMERICAN MORNING.

More perspective now from Jeffrey Toobin, our CNN legal analyst, a lot to chew on this -- good morning to you.

The judge said in part, Marjorie Knoller could not have known her dogs were going to kill that day. Was that the threshold for the judge?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That was the key issue for the judge. The legal standard that the prosecution had to meet in order to prove second-degree murder is they had to prove that Marjorie Knoller subjectively, in her own mind, believed that there was a high probability that the dogs would kill someone on this day.

HEMMER: So that's what he is talking about when he says the law in the state of California was not met based on the evidence in this case for second-degree murder?

TOOBIN: Right. He knew -- he believed that Marjorie Knoller believed those dogs were dangerous, that she acted recklessly, negligently, stupidly, but she did not know, in her own mind, that the dogs were going to kill on that day. That's the standard.

HEMMER: Jim Hammer, the prosecutor, had extremely, what I felt, were strong words before the judge.

TOOBIN: Waving his finger at the judge, which is something...

HEMMER: Let's watch it and listen to it, and we'll talk about your reaction here in a moment.

OK. Apparently, we don't have it queued up just yet, but in a moment, we promise our viewers we'll get to it. But you saw it. I saw it. Ever seen anything like that before?

TOOBIN: Well, I remember my own days as a trial lawyer, and I thought to myself, if I ever pointed at a judge and waved my finger like that, I would have been thrown out of court in a second. But you know, I think it was an example of the rage that is felt by so many people in San Francisco.

One of the things Judge Warren said is that you -- to Noel and Knoller, you are the most unpopular people in San Francisco, and I don't think there is any doubt about that. In that respect, you have to give the judge at least some credit for being courageous and going against public opinion, even though he may be wrong on the law.

HEMMER: You mentioned the rage, and the emotion was obvious. Here is Jim Hammer's words yesterday in court.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM HAMMER, PROSECUTOR: I fear that what you have done today -- and that's why I am going to ask you to reconsider it -- is that you will forever have robbed Sharon Smith and Diane Whipple and everyone who knew the woman and 12 jurors in Los Angeles and 19 grand jurors in San Francisco and everyone in California of a sense of justice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HEMMER: Does a judge say that's going to hurt you later? Or does a judge sit there and say, I can understand your emotions, your rage on this? TOOBIN: I think a judge, like Judge Warren, who is a pretty calm sort, is probably not going to hold that finger pointing against the prosecutor. But you know, this case is not over. There is the very interesting question now of does the government appeal? Because in most cases, the government can appeal, and he cannot appeal any sort of loss. But here, they can appeal and try to get the murder verdict reinstated. That would extend this controversy for many, many more months, but it could get the sentence reinstated.

HEMMER: Sharon Smith, the partner of Diane Whipple, stood up yesterday in an impact statement, we call it, she says, I just stood up from this juror's seat, essentially. And she says, I'm wondering now what value this seat has. What's the impact on jurors when a judge essentially trumps them in the end?

TOOBIN: It is true that in every criminal case, the judge has the right to overrule a conviction and make it an acquittal. But judges, understandably, are very wary about using that power, because, you know, the system is fundamentally based on the wisdom of jurors. But every once in a while, judges overturn verdicts, and it's very controversial...

(CROSSTALK)

HEMMER: Two shockers in ten days in the courts across America.

TOOBIN: It is indeed.

HEMMER: Thank you, Jeff -- we'll talk later.

TOOBIN: OK, pal.

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