San Franciso -- A prison inmate whose dogs fatally attacked a San Francisco woman was granted permission in federal court in the city today to act as his own lawyer in facing racketeering and murder conspiracy charges.
Paul "Cornfed'' Schneider, 39, said, "No, I don't, your honor,'' when asked by U.S. Magistrate Bernard Zimmerman whether he wanted a court-appointed lawyer.
Zimmerman, who had advised Schneider to have a lawyer, then ruled that he was competent to make that decision and could proceed with representing himself.
Schneider also pleaded innocent during his brief court appearance to the federal charges of racketeering and conspiracy.
Schneider, who is now serving a state court life sentence at the high-security Pelican Bay State Prison, is a co-owner of two dogs that fatally mauled Diane Whipple in her Pacific Heights apartment building in January.
He is the adopted son of husband-and-wife attorneys Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller, who were taking care of the dogs in a Pacific Heights apartment building they shared with Whipple and now face criminal charges in the attack.
Schneider and seven other alleged members and associates of the Aryan Brotherhood were indicted by a federal grand jury last week on charges of racketeering, murder conspiracy and other crimes allegedly orchestrated by the white supremacist gang from inside Pelican Bay.
All eight were brought one by one, in handcuffs and under heavy guard this morning, to Zimmerman's Federal Building courtroom in San Francisco for arraignment and hearings on whether they should be held in federal or state custody while awaiting trial.
All eight entered innocent pleas. Zimmerman ordered them to return to the court of U.S. District William Alsup in San Francisco on Tuesday for the setting of future court dates. Alsup will preside over their eventual trial.
The magistrate ordered Schneider and three other Pelican Bay inmates returned to state custody in the North Coast prison after their court appearance next Tuesday.
The four other defendants, who are serving sentences in other state prisons, will remain in federal custody in local county jails while awaiting trial. They include Brenda Moore, 45, who is reportedly Schneider's ex-girlfriend and who is alleged in the indictment to be an associate but not a member of the Aryan Brotherhood.
The U.S. Marshals Service, which is in charge of federal prisoners awaiting trial, contracts out their custody to local county jails.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Terry Canepa had originally sought the transfer of Schneider and the other three Pelican Bay inmates to federal custody as well. But she withdrew that request after a hearing on the first Pelican Bay inmate to appear, convicted murderer James Pendleton, whose lawyer said Pendleton opposed federal detention and wanted to return to Pelican Bay.
After Canepa said she had correspondence showing that Pendleton had allegedly ordered several more murders from within the prison, Zimmerman said that evidence and Pendleton's criminal record indicated he was a danger to society.
But he said the prosecutor hadn't proved that keeping him in federal custody at Alameda County's North County Jail would be any less dangerous than keeping him at Pelican Bay. Zimmerman then ordered Pendleton returned to state custody.
Canepa then withdrew the federal detention request for the other Pelican Bay inmates after each, including Schneider, said he opposed federal custody.
Schneider, dressed in red and orange prison garb, said, "Too many people in here,'' when he was first brought into the small courtroom filled with defense attorneys, spectators and federal marshals.
He asked Zimmerman the purpose of the court appearance before Alsup on Tuesday.
The magistrate explained, "He'll start the process of putting you on a trial track.''
Schneider is accused in the Aug. 30 federal indictment of one count of conspiring to racketeer, one count of carrying out a 15-year pattern of racketeering acts that allegedly included several murder and robbery conspiracies, and one separate count of murder conspiracy.
One of the alleged racketeering acts is aiding, together with Moore, in the murder of Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Frank Trejo in 1995.
Schneider is currently serving a state sentence of life without parole for a 1991 aggravated assault and a 1990 attempted murder, both committed while he was in prison.