Karen Breslau

Stories by Karen Breslau

  • A Deadly Weapon

    The defendant sobbed; her attorney crawled on the courtroom floor. The prosecutor displayed a plaster cast of dog teeth. Even the judge couldn't resist the occasional canine quip to ease the tension. But after four weeks of riveting--and often gruesome--testimony, the jury delivered the most dramatic punch of all, convicting a controversial San Francisco couple on murder and manslaughter charges after their two enormous dogs mauled a neighbor to death in the hallway of their apartment building last year. After the guilty verdicts were read, Marjorie Knoller, convicted of second-degree murder, turned to her elderly parents and tearfully mouthed, "Help me." They were the same words witnesses heard moments before the dogs' victim, Diane Whipple, was found bleeding to death and suffocating, unable to breathe through her crushed larynx. Knoller's husband, Robert Noel, who wasn't home when the dogs killed Whipple, was convicted on a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. Knoller could...
  • After The Mauling

    A horrible crime, a stunning verdict, and unforgettable, Hollywood-defying cast of characters. In the end, the "dog trial"--as the Diane Whipple murder case came to be known--lived up to its billing.It didn't cause a culture-quake on par with O. J.; it can't compare in social significance to Andrea Yates; there was none of the what-have-we-become suburban soul-searching prompted by the "hockey dad" case. After all, how many Presa Canario owners with adoptive Aryan Brotherhood-inmate "sons" does the average person know? But a megatrial it was.As the lawyers, jurors and assorted supporting actors make the rounds from Greta to Larry to Matt and Katie, and the cable TV roadies in the courthouse parking lot pack up for the next big show, there are plenty of questions to ponder.What was this case all about? When Diane Whipple was mauled to death by Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller's dogs in the hallway outside of their San Francisco apartment building last year, police at the scene...
  • In Defense Of John Walker Lindh

    When John Walker Lindh was captured in Afghanistan last December, he told reporters that he joined the Taliban because his "heart became attached to them." But according to documents his lawyers filed in federal court in Virginia on Friday, Lindh actually feared his comrades more than he loved them. After learning of the September 11 attacks, the documents say, Lindh "was obviously disillusioned...and wanted to leave his Taliban unit but could not do so for fear of death."That, Lindh's lawyers say, is what the frightened American told his military interrogators in the days after his arrest. But, they charge, Lindh's comments were omitted from internal reports that the government later used to prepare its case against Lindh. Lindh, who is being held in an Alexandria jail, goes on trial Aug. 26 on conspiracy and terrorism charges. If convicted on all four charges, he faces 90 years to life in prison.How many times did Walker Lindh change his story? When first asked in the hours after...
  • Bill Who?

    It was just after Christmas, and things were looking grim for Gray Davis. Tarnished by memories of rolling blackouts and a softening economy, the California governor's approval ratings were down to around 40 percent.His most recent splash in the national media had been a disaster: Davis announced that California's bridges, including the Golden Gate, had been targeted by terrorists, a claim later hooted down by law-enforcement authorities. Most alarming of all to his handlers, only a third of California voters said the state was on the "right track" under Davis--a potential kiss of death for any incumbent. Davis's campaign advisers watched warily as former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan--having been anointed by the Bush White House to reclaim California for the GOP--inched ahead of the Democratic governor in the polls. Riordan's apparent popularity was all the more ominous, considering the fact that he hadn't even yet won the Republican nomination.Even though Davis faced no...
  • The Good Neighbor?

    Marjorie Knoller's Attorney Says Her Client Tried To Save Diane Whipple In The Bizarre Case Of Deadly Dog Attack
  • Lindh's Defensive Play

    We've seen the videotape a thousand times: frail and filthy under a wild plume of hair, the wincing young captive is laid on a stretcher. Helping hands wrap him in a hospital smock. But there are no famous pictures of John Walker Lindh in the days that follow. That's when his lawyers say the American who fought for the Taliban was blindfolded, stripped naked and shackled hand and foot to a cot inside a freezing metal shipping container. There, his lawyers charge, Lindh's U.S. military guards hurled obscenities and threats of violence, even death. When Lindh's blindfold was removed on Dec. 9, more than a week after his capture, he found himself sitting across from a man who said he worked for the FBI. Let's talk, said the agent. Addled by fear, pain, hunger and exhaustion, Lindh, as he now wants to be known, waived his right to remain silent. He wouldn't see a lawyer for six more weeks. ...
  • No Bail For Lindh

    John Walker Lindh hardly seems big enough to have become a legend in his own time. He is a slight young man: shorn of his beard and famous wild hair and battlefield soot, he looks more like a juvenile offender than a hardened terrorist. Dressed in a green prison jumpsuit with a crew cut, it's not hard to see the "boy" whose distressed father thought he deserved a "kick in the butt" after he was captured last December fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan. ...
  • Reporting On United Flight 93

    Reporting in the early 1990s from Romania, Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union, I thought I had seen my share of sorrow and human drama. But none of that prepared me for the emotional impact of covering United Airlines Flight 93.When I started working on the story in the days after September 11, my stomach was in knots. I stared at the names and phone numbers of the families of the passengers and crew, trying to work up the nerve to call. These people were confronting unimaginable agony. How could I possibly ask them to relive the most awful moments of their lives? As a journalist, how could I not find out more about what would clearly become a chapter of American history?The first stories we published about United Flight 93, as a sidebar to the broader horror of September 11, generated an enormous response. They also raised more questions than they answered. Was the hijacked plane headed, in fact, for the U.S. Capitol, as many investigators believe? How did the passengers and...
  • 'We Are Devastated That Thousands Of Families Are Going Through This'

    It has been nearly six months since Chandra Levy disappeared from her Washington apartment, carrying nothing more than her house keys. Despite an extensive--and costly--private investigation, Robert and Susan Levy, remain mystified about the fate of their 24-year-old daughter. Since Chandra's disappearance, the Levys have focused on Chandra's relationship with their hometown representative, Congressman Gary Condit. The California Democrat, who has consistently denied any role in Levy's disappearance, on Oct. 1 began gathering the 3,000 signatures he needs to win a place on the state's primary ballot for reelection. And he was recently appointed to the newly formed House Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee. As the nation's tragedy subsumes their own, the Levys continue to search for their daughter. They spoke by phone with NEWSWEEK's Karen Breslau from their home in Modesto, Calif. Excerpts: ...
  • Courage In The Air

    Crash investigators say Madeline Amy Sweeney kept her composure almost to the very end. As terrorists seized the controls of American Airlines Flight 11, the flight attendant phoned a supervisor on the ground in Boston to give the alarm. It sounded at first like an ordinary ransom hijacking, albeit a particularly brutal one. Sweeney, the mother of two small children, calmly told Michael Woodward how a group of Middle Eastern passengers on the Boston-to-Los Angeles plane had stabbed two flight attendants, slit a passenger's throat and stormed the cockpit. She described the hijackers and listed their seat numbers. Then she said the plane had suddenly turned and was dropping fast. She tried to contact the pilot, but there was no answer. Woodward asked the plane's location. Sweeney looked out a window. She said: "I see water and buildings--Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" The call broke off, and the 767 plunged into the north side of 1 World Trade Center.In the face of death, Sweeney performed...
  • The Final Moments Of United Flight 93

    United Flight 93 was late. After pushing off from the gate at 8:01 a.m., the Boeing 757 made its way slowly through the runway traffic at Newark International, finally taking off at 8:41 a.m., 40 minutes behind schedule. In the first-class cabin, Mark Bingham, a San Francisco publicist, had settled into his seat. Next to him was Tom Burnett, an executive for a health-care company in the Bay Area. It was a routine flight for both men. Bingham shuttled regularly between New York and San Francisco, working with technology companies; Burnett was on his way home from a business trip.Further back in the business-class cabin, Jeremy Glick, a 31-year-old sales manager for an Internet company, was in Row 11. Behind him sat Lou Nacke, a toy-company manager on his way to Sacramento for a day trip. In the main cabin was Todd Beamer, 32, a manager for software giant Oracle, headed from his home in New Jersey to the company's Silicon Valley headquarters.There was, in airline parlance, a "light...
  • Education: Edison's Report Card

    When Toni Hines found out that her children's elementary school, the worst in San Francisco, would be taken over by the for-profit Edison Schools Inc., she was thrilled. Edison, the brainchild of New York media entrepreneur Christopher Whittle, promised every family a computer and each child "a world-class education" through its rigorous, back-to-basics curriculum. "It sounded like everything I had dreamed of for my kids," says Hines, 37. Edison spent $1.8 million on the school--coincidentally named Thomas Edison--installing colorful iMacs and sprucing up filthy hallways with bright paint and motivational posters. But soon after the Edison Charter Academy opened in 1998, Hines's dream was dashed. Her son Andre, a rambunctious second grader, fought with other kids and his teachers. After numerous suspensions, school administrators hinted to Hines that she should remove Andre from the Edison academy. "The message was clear," says Hines. "They wanted to get rid of all the kids with...
  • Looking Beyond The Dot Bomb

    As signs of the times go, this one was hard to miss. At Stanford's Graduate School of Business in California last week, nearly a third of the companies that had signed up to recruit graduating M.B.A.s at the annual Growth Company Career Forum didn't bother to show. A few dozen GSB students wandered around a half-empty room at the Charles Schwab Center, the M.B.A. dormitory, poking through the rubble of the Internet economy. There wasn't much left: an antihacking-software firm seeking product managers, an online publisher looking for a digital-content guru and one hardy dot-com, a Web site for expectant parents, with an opening for an experienced a software manager. Even the recruiting trinkets had a downsize flavor: there were Hershey's Kisses, glowing balls printed with one company's logo and souped-up paper clips. "It was depressing," says student David Maltz. "The one company that I was interested in wasn't even hiring." ...
  • As The Megawatts Turn

    When Gray Davis became Governor of California two years ago, he planned to make education the centerpiece of his administration. Instead, he became an energy expert. "I know more about electricity than I ever wanted to know," he recently told a group of Wall Street analysts. "I could give a tutorial at any college in America." ...
  • Hounded By A Dog Attack

    It was hardly your typical attorney-client relationship. Nearly every day San Francisco lawyers Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller wrote doting letters to inmates Paul Schneider and Dale Bretches about the two dogs they were caring for on their behalf--the grilled-chicken sandwiches the pair gobbled as treats, where they went for walks, how many people stopped to tickle the rare Presa Canario mastiffs behind the ears. They also sent hundreds of snapshots of "the kids": Hera, the 110-pound female, lolling on the beach under the Golden Gate Bridge, and Bane, the 125-pound male, frolicking in a park. "We really bonded over these dogs," says Knoller. "We became a family." Knoller, 45, and Noel, 59, even adopted Schneider, 38, who is serving a life sentence for armed robbery and attempted murder, so they could help him, they say, get better medical care in prison. ...
  • Habla Ingles, Por Favor

    ;Even in a high-tech culture that celebrates eccentricity, Ron Unz is--to be polite about it--an unusual character. A Silicon Valley software mogul who studied theoretical physics and ancient history at Harvard, Unz ran unsuccessfully for California's GOP nomination for governor in 1994, when he was 31. Two years later he tried and failed to pass a campaign-finance referendum. Now 38, Unz is on a one-man crusade to end bilingual education. "It's a well-intentioned but severely misguided policy," he says, "that has resulted in a state-mandated segregation system for Hispanic and immigrant children." ...
  • Contractor's Delight W/Rm To Grow

    Every growing family knows the problem: a couple of kids, some toys and, before long, it's time to add on. At least that's what Bill Gates's architect says in remodeling plans recently filed with the planning board in Medina, Wash., where Bill, wife Melinda and their two tots, Jennifer, 4, and Rory, 22 months, are apparently feeling cramped in their 48,160-square-foot, seven-bedroom, nine-bathroom digs. Bill designed the contemporary lakeside spread, complete with a 60-foot indoor pool, during his bachelor days. "The house isn't fitting as they expected it to," according to architect Bruce Anderson, whose construction plans include new children's rooms and a link from the main house to a 1,900-square-foot guest "pavilion." (A Microsoft spokesman refuses to comment on rumors that another little Gates is in beta.) Construction costs are estimated at $750,000, but considering the home's $113.5 million market value, Gates shouldn't have to worry about a second mortgage.
  • Another Civil Action

    For three years, Jan Schlichtmann wandered the beaches and rain forests of Hawaii, trying to escape the case that made him famous. His failed prosecution of two companies accused of polluting the drinking water in Woburn, Mass., inspired the best-selling ecothriller "A Civil Action." But the 1986 trial also left the flamboyant young lawyer broke, and, he admits, "broken in spirit." A Boston judge had dismissed his case against one defendant on a technicality. The other defendant, chemical maker W.R. Grace & Co., settled midtrial for $8 million, leaving Schlichtmann bankrupt, his partners furious and the victims bitter. "I lost my moorings, my career, my desire to have a career," he says. Humiliated, Schlichtmann left for Hawaii in 1990, vowing never to practice law again.Four years later Schlichtmann had a change of heart. Restless, he returned to Boston and rebuilt his name as a tenacious environmental lawyer. Now, 15 years after losing the biggest case of his career,...
  • A Pol Feels The Heat

    Even before a deranged man plowed his big rig into the state capitol last Tuesday, California Gov. Gray Davis wasn't having a good week. With his state's power supplies dwindling, Davis spent a frantic day in Washington, D.C., pleading for federal intervention. But on Wednesday, with the truck wreckage still smoldering, Pacific Gas & Electric ordered the first scheduled power outages in California's peacetime history.Suddenly, the man who's been mentioned as a 2004 presidential contender could see his own prospects dimming faster than the office lights in Palo Alto. Last week polls showed that the once popular governor was paying a price for what he has called California's deregulation "nightmare"-- which Davis points out he inherited from his Republican predecessor. More than 60 percent of voters say they disapprove of Davis's handling of the crisis, and his overall approval rating is slipping.Hammered for not responding to the crisis last year, Davis is now aggressively trying...
  • Meet Nader's Traders

    Cindy Layne wants Al Gore to win. That, says the Austin, Texas, financial consultant, is why she's voting for Ralph Nader. Her Gore "vote" will be cast some 1,700 miles away, in a suburb of Portland, Ore., by Charlie Levenson, a man she contacted last week through voteswap2000.com. "I was going to vote for Nader," says Levenson. "But then if Bush won, I would feel really terrible." Instead, Levenson will vote for Gore in Oregon, where the race is tied, while Layne racks one up for Nader in Texas, where Gore has little chance of winning.Confused? The Founding Fathers might be scratching their heads, too, if they saw how 21st-century voters are using the Internet to finesse the Colonial-era Electoral College. Layne and Levenson were among thousands who flocked last week to brand-new Web sites, trying to strategically redistribute Gore and Nader votes--state by state--in order to defeat George W. Bush and to help Nader win the 5 percent of the popular vote the Green Party needs to...
  • Silicon Valley's Latest Craze: Schadenfreude

    When Jason Ward returned to northern California in 1997 after college, he hated how his home-town of Portola Valley had changed. The redwood foot-hills of his childhood had become a playground for the dot-com set. Patrons at his favorite biker bar were jabbering on mobile phones, tapping on their laptops and boasting about their stock options. Spandex-clad yuppies swarmed country roads on their titanium racing bikes, and young Internet moguls thought nothing of banging on his neighbors' doors to offer insane amounts of cash for houses that weren't even for sale. So Ward retaliated as only a self-respecting rebel would: he produced an indie film, "I Want to Blow Up Silicon Valley."Judging from the mood in the San Francisco Bay Area these days, Ward isn't the only one. After years of nearly insufferable hype, the self-proclaimed capital of the New Economy is getting a bracing taste of the downside. From crashing stock prices to dot-com bankruptcies, the Internet titans seem suddenly...
  • Take My Money, Please!

    By any reasonable standard, Randy Pond has it all--a great job, a big house and millions in stock options. Until recently, says the 46-year-old Cisco Systems vice president, the hard part wasn't bringing in the money, but figuring out how to give it away. For that, he now has the Pond Family Foundation, endowed with $1.2 million in Cisco stock. His father-in-law serves as the foundation's secretary; his 16-year-old daughter is a non-voting board member. "I didn't want to leave enough money to my children to ruin them," says Pond. "The foundation is there to teach my daughters to look for interesting projects to make a difference in the community."As Pond and other techno-millionaires of Silicon Valley have discovered, you don't have to be named Du Pont or Carnegie to become a philanthropist. Even after last spring's Nasdaq dive, the private family foundation is rapidly becoming a must-have, right up there with the Porsche and the house in Tahoe. "The image of the cyberstingy is...
  • Wooing 'Wired Workers'

    Ever since Ronald Reagan ran away with the once Democratic South, pollsters, pundits and candidates have struggled to understand the American Swing Voter. From Reagan Democrats to "angry white males" to "soccer moms," these groups of late deciders have coalesced in middle-class suburbs to cast their key votes. This year pollsters like the Democrats' Mark Penn have singled out what they believe may be the mother lode of volatile voters: a predominantly male group of Web surfers and Nasdaq disciples whose lives have been transformed by the digital revolution--what the political pros are calling the "wired workers." "This New Economy voter has, almost overnight, become a huge force," says Penn, who helped design Clinton's 1996 appeal to soccer moms.Wired workers aren't just options-wielding hipsters from Silicon Valley. According to a survey Penn completed earlier this year for the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, they make up nearly a quarter of the electorate, or 35 million...
  • Newt's New Cyberworld

    Celia's, a Mexican restaurant in Palo Alto, Calif., is usually packed with the who's who of Silicon Valley: young dot-comers in black, venture capitalists and Nobel Prize winners in jeans. On a recent evening Chelsea Clinton is eating downstairs with friends from nearby Stanford. Upstairs, by coincidence, is another refugee from official Washington. Over a plateful of fajitas, Newt Gingrich is lecturing a roomful of top scientists about his ideas for revolutionizing American education. They listen appreciatively to proposals that might have a Washington audience rolling their eyes--like giving a computer to every 4-year-old and rewarding top students with cash bonuses. In Silicon Valley, the more far-reaching--even outlandish--the idea, the better. "They are a failure-accepting system," says Gingrich. "It's the exact opposite of the East Coast. You can't catch the rhythm of the future until you come here."Who knows more about accepting failure than Gingrich? Since resigning as House...
  • Snooping Around The Valley

    Like any good silicon valley entrepreneur needing cash, Kathy DeMartini made the requisite pilgrimage to Sand Hill Road--home to the Valley's top venture-capital firms. When no one waved a check, DeMartini took her idea to a new VC outfit called In-Q-Tel. The company's management was intrigued by DeMartini's concept for preventing the piracy of online documents. After making a few strategic tweaks to her business plan, In-Q-Tel put up more than $2 million in seed capital for her venture, Mediaspan.com. In-Q-Tel also promised experts from its better-known parent company back East would test Mediaspan's technology. "I thought, 'Wow, this is really cool'," says DeMartini. "They were more than willing to roll up their sleeves and make this thing work."The parent company back East, it turns out, is the CIA. These days, the government agency does not often get credit for "intelligence," much less for being "cool." But with In-Q-Tel's help, the agency is trying once again to become a key...
  • Valley Of The Dollars

    You've probably never heard of Halsey Minor, but Al Gore and George W. Bush know him well. The 34-year-old founder of CNET, a $4 billion Internet media company in San Francisco, has what politicians call a "good profile." Last year Minor gave $70,000 to Democrats; this year he has donated $50,000 to Republicans. He has opened his San Francisco mansion for fund-raisers. Two years ago the vice president invited Minor to join "Goretech," a group of young executives who advise him on technology issues, and Gore's daughter Sarah interned at CNET last summer. Bush has also come courting: he seated Minor next to him at a recent Silicon Valley fund-raising lunch. "Every week I get phone calls, e-mail, faxes from people in Washington, very senior figures," says Minor, sounding a tad weary. "You get inundated."It's the Silicon Primary. Candidates are competing for support from rich, young techies whose libertarian tendencies defy traditional partisan loyalty. Most, like Minor, are socially...
  • The Other Comeback Kid

    As Hillary and Chelsea Clinton descended from the plane at Asmara, Eritrea--the last stop of a good-will tour to Africa--a group of costumed women on the tarmac began to ululate and dance in celebration. Then they reached into large round baskets and started tossing popcorn all over the president's wife and daughter. Those of us traveling with her stared in amazement, then we began to wonder: would Hillary throw the popcorn back to honor her hosts? Would Chelsea see us laughing and lose her uncannily perfect composure? ...
  • Running On Fumes

    WEARY AIDES TO AL Gore call it his ""Climate 101'' lecture. This week he'll give it once again--an apocalyptic recitation of the dangers posed by melting glaciers, rising oceans and skyrocketing carbon-dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. It's a speech the vice president knows by heart; he's worked on it his entire political life and has been polishing the pitch since he wrote his 1992 manifesto, ""Earth in the Balance.'' Left unchecked, global warming would lead to an ""environmental holocaust,'' Gore warned. But the vice president won't be delivering his message in Kyoto, Japan, where the world's governments are gathering to negotiate a treaty intended to control greenhouse gases. Instead, he'll be some 8,000 miles away--at a photo op in the Florida Everglades. ...
  • Destination Unknown

    SUDDENLY SHE'S EVERYWHERE. ONE day it's Belfast to give a boost to the Northern Ireland peace process. The next it's Chequers--the country retreat of the British prime minister--where she and Tony Blair, joined by top aides from both governments, spend a day discussing their transatlantic agenda. Last week Hillary Clinton touched down in Central Asia to promote the Clinton administration's gospel of democracy, human rights and free markets. In Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan she urged audiences still digging out from Soviet-style communism to ""create a civil society.''Hillary Rodham Clinton has logged more miles than any other First Lady in history. But behind the traditional images of the president's wife abroad--the costumed dancers, the well-scrubbed children presenting bouquets on the tarmac--Hillary, like her globetrotting hero Eleanor Roosevelt, has developed into a powerful presidential envoy. Like earlier trips to Africa, India and South America, Hillary's journey to...
  • A Capital Cyber Clash

    FOR SIDNEY BLUMENTHAL, NEWLY minted assistant to the president, it was not a good first day on the job. He arrived at his West Wing office one Monday last August to find the corridors abuzz about an item from that day's ""Drudge Report,'' the hip online gossip site. Blumenthal, screamed the Internet headline, HAS SPOUSAL ABUSE PAST. The story related unsubstantiated claims by unnamed GOP operatives that Clinton had hired a wife beater. Within hours, Blumenthal and his wife, Jacqueline, who also works at the White House, hired a lawyer. They called for and promptly received an online retraction of the false report.Case closed? Hardly. The Blumenthals also demanded that cybercolumnist Matt Drudge reveal his sources--or else. When he didn't, the couple filed a $30 million defamation suit against Drudge and America Online, Inc., which carries the ""Drudge Report'' on the World Wide Web. Lawyers for Drudge and AOL are scheduled to respond this week in a case that could make legal history...