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Dogs' owner charged with murder in mauling death

By Christopher Weber

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 06:23 p.m. HST, May 30, 2013

LOS ANGELES >> The owner of four pit bulls that killed a woman jogger in a gruesome mauling was charged with murder today in a highly unusual case that strained the memories of law enforcement officials to find comparable uses of the felony murder law.

Alex Jackson, 29, was charged after DNA tests on his dogs found blood on their muzzles and coats that matched that of Pamela Devitt, 63, who died after being bitten 150 to 200 times by his four pit bulls.

"The DNA came back with blood on the dogs that matched the victim's blood," said sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.

Whitmore and others said it was the first dog mauling case they could recall since the 2001 trial of a San Francisco couple convicted in the death of a neighbor who was mauled by their giant dog.

Marjorie Knoller received a 15-years-to-life sentence after a jury found her guilty of second-degree murder. In rejecting her appeal, the California Supreme Court ruled that Knoller acted with a conscious disregard for human life when her 140-pound Presa Canario escaped and killed Diane Whipple in an apartment building hallway.

Knoller's husband, Noel, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

The warrant against Jackson also charges him with owner negligence of an animal causing death, said Jane Robison, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office. He also faces charges of growing marijuana.

Jackson was originally arrested shortly after the May 9 death of Devitt but was released on bail pending DNA testing to determine if his dogs carried out the attack. He is being held on $1 million bail and was scheduled for arraignment Friday.

Dog bite-related fatalities are rare — anywhere from 30 to 35 each year — but there are more cases where criminal charges such as endangerment are being filed against owners, said Donald Cleary, a spokesman with the National Canine Research Council. Cleary could recall only three other instances, two in California and one in Georgia, where murder charges were filed.

Since January, authorities received at least three other reports of Jackson's dogs attacking other people, according to Robeson.

Sheriff's authorities said a driver who saw pit bulls attacking Devitt in the high desert community of Littlerock called 911 and honked her horn to try to get the dogs to stop.

An arriving deputy saw a single dog still attacking the runner and tried to chase it off, Lt. John Corina said. The dog ran off into the desert, then turned around and attacked the deputy, who took a shot at the animal before it ran off.

Hours later, sheriff's and animal control officials served a search warrant on Jackson's home near the site of the attack and took away eight dogs, six pit bulls and two mixed-breeds.

The dogs were kept under quarantine for rabies observation at a Lancaster shelter. Four of the pit bulls seized were believed to have attacked Devitt.

Her husband told KCAL-TV he blamed the dogs' owner for what happened.

"I do not blame the dogs. I don't blame pit bulls," Ben Devitt said. "I blame people who don't take responsibility for their animals."

Not all of the dogs are licensed, spayed or neutered as required by county and state law, said Marcia Mayeda, the county's animal control director.

Cleary said in most cases the dogs involved in attacks are not family pets but animals who are often isolated and don't get positive human interaction.

"If a dog has seriously hurt or killed someone, you have to look to the owner and the owner should be held accountable on some level," he said. "There's no reason we have to tolerate that kind of behavior."


Associated Press writer Greg Risling and AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch contributed to this report.

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Hawaiians wrote:
We need to have more serve laws in place for owners of dogs that attack people.
on May 30,2013 | 05:38PM
jakwa wrote:
Yup! Especially irresponsible dog owners...
on May 30,2013 | 08:07PM
Grimbold wrote:
Death Penalty! Seriously!
on May 31,2013 | 01:16AM
Sunny wrote:
Yes and for owners that attack dogs too!
on May 31,2013 | 08:46AM
eoe wrote:
A lot of people are saying, "its the deed not the breed." I'm fine with that concept as long as when your dog kills someone you go down for murder. Injuries range from assault to attempted murder. We'll see how many people own killer breeds then.
on May 30,2013 | 08:22PM
Grimbold wrote:
Every larger dog should be undergoing a thorough test by expertrs to see if it could be .agressive. At the expense of the owner. Only non-agressive Dogs should be allowed to live, the others killed.
on May 31,2013 | 01:20AM
kailua000 wrote:
GOOD!!! about time
on May 30,2013 | 10:13PM
serious wrote:
Yes, if it has teeth it can kill!!
on May 31,2013 | 04:47AM
loquaciousone wrote:
I guess that leaves senior out.
on May 31,2013 | 07:58AM
Publicbraddah wrote:
Until you make dog owners responsible, they just won't get it.
on May 31,2013 | 05:53AM
eoe wrote:
"I do not blame the dogs. I don't blame pit bulls." Wrong. Pitbulls and pitbull mixes make up 4.4% of the overall population of dogs and account for 61% of all attacks on humans that do bodily harm.
on May 31,2013 | 06:33AM
sailfish1 wrote:
Make irresponsible dog owners PAY for their dogs' criminal behavior.
on May 31,2013 | 07:52AM
screaming_banshee wrote:
Unfortunately, our weak laws don't protect the victims and the only type of recourse is to sue. Other than that, the dog gets TWO chances to hurt someone. We were going along the sidewalk when a pitbull at a house that we were passing by, popped his head out of the fence and, UNPROVOKED, it bit my 2 year old in the face!!! The owner gets a slap on the wrist with a citation, dog gets to live while my baby has facial scars and possible nerve damage! We were told we could sue. I don't want to sue. I want the dog dead before it hurts someone else. Clearly the owner doesn't have the time to train this unfixed male pitbull and so he doesn't deserve it. That dog has bit someone before and a small dog in the neighborhood was mauled by it but those people didn't report it (or so the police and the Humane Society say), so it gets to live. To top it all off, the prosecutor hinted that we didn't really have a case because the dog was still on the owner's property! I said we were on a PUBLIC sidewalk and my child didn't provoke him! We were just walking by! We should be safe to walk on our sidewalks especially in a residential neighborhood filled with children and elderly walkers! I am hoping to reach out to our legislators to see if we can get stronger penalities for the owner and dog in. Yeah...I know...good luck with that one. :p
on May 31,2013 | 08:56AM
saveparadise wrote:
Your story is alarming! I hope you get justice in some way. The dog is just protecting his territory but the owner should be held totally accountable for not confining the pit within the yard.
on May 31,2013 | 09:42AM
screaming_banshee wrote:
And for the record, I don't hate dogs. I have two large dogs. I love them and have had dogs all my life. But they are fixed and we do strict dominance training for both. Unfortunately, once a dog has bit a human, it will do it again. I wish that there was mandatory training required for all those that own dogs. Unfortunately, how do you enforce that? You can pass all the laws you want but unless it can be enforced, it won't work. Personally, the one rule that I would like to see if any dog bites someone, especially a child, it gets immediately euthanized at the owner's expense and that the owner serve at least 1 year and more, depending on severity, in prison with community service. Once released, they are not to have any dogs for at least a year after release and if they get one after the one year is up, they have to submit to the judge papers that the dog is registered, micro-chipped, fixed, in good health and attending a dog obedience class. These can be court ordered. If they are found to have violated any part of that, their new dog is confiscated and the owner gets thrown in jail for minimum of 5 years. And if their new dog bites someone - owner gets 20 years minimum. If the new dog kills someone - owner gets murder charges with life imprisonment.
on May 31,2013 | 10:26AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
Seriously, this is the kind of thing that may make pit bull owners think twice before they behave negligently. Unfortunately, many pit bull owners will remain oblivious to this possibility until their dog mauls a child or another jogger. The only way to help prevent this kind of thing is through education. Those owning pit bulls and other dogs that have been found to do this kind of thing should be licensed to own such breeds. And to be licensed, I mean that the owner or future owner of such a breed has been given the education and shown understanding of his or her responsibilities. This kind of legislation will cost us tax payers more but it may save lives. If there are rules in this respect, they obviously were not effective.
on May 31,2013 | 09:25AM
kainalu wrote:
"Cleary said in most cases the dogs involved in attacks are not family pets but animals who are often isolated and don't get positive human interaction." - and there it is in a nutshell. Dogs are social animals, and need to be socialized. If you don't have the space and time to do this, you shouldn't own a dog of any breed. Sticking a dog in a cage or tied to a leash in the corner of the yard borders on abuse in my opinion.
on May 31,2013 | 09:46AM
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