A California jury has reached a guilty verdict against a man whose pit bulls attacked and killed a woman.The owner of the dogs, 31-year-old Alex Donald Jackson, was found guilty of second-degree murder on Friday. He faces a sentence of 24 years to life imprisonment when he is sentenced on Oct. 3.
The victim, Pamela Devitt,63, of Palmdale, was on a morning walk on May 9, 2013, when Jackson’s four dogs attacked her and mauled her to death. According to the medical examiner, she was bitten 150-200 times. Some of the bites were deep enough to expose bone. A person who had been driving by at the time of the attack testified that he saw the victim almost completely nude and covered with blood and attempted to scare the dogs away by honking his horn. The dogs were chased away by a sheriff’s deputy responding to the scene, who saw upon arrival that one of the dogs was still attacking the victim. Initially, the dog ran away when the deputy arrived, but returned and ran toward the officer, who fired a shot. The dog was scared off again, but came back seconds later and ran at the officer again. Only after a second shot was fired did the dog run away for good. Devitt died on route to the hospital from blood loss.
Prosecutors alleged during trial that not only was Jackson negligent, but he was aware that his pit bulls could seriously injure or kill somebody. Evidence of at least seven other incidents involving his dogs within a year-and-a-half of the attack on Devitt was presented in court. Testimony against Jackson included accounts of several people who had ridden horseback by Jackson’s home and had been bitten or chased by his dogs. Jackson’s own neighbors told the court that while getting their mail, the dogs would jump over the fence, which was only just over 3′ high. One mail carrier recounted an attempt to deliver a package to Jackson’s home and having to retreat to his vehicle due to a threatening dog that eventually chased his mail truck for half of a mile.
In court, Jackson said that he was not aware of the majority of the incidents involving his dogs. He added that had he known they were dangerous and could possibly be killers, he would not have continued to keep them.
When Jackson was arrested, he had placed the four dogs involved in the attack inside of his garage. He had a total of eight dogs in the home, in which he lived with his mother. When animal control officers visited his home after the dog attack, they testified that Jackson was drunk and that he told them, “If you mess with me, you’re coming into the lions’ den.” DNA tests on all eight dogs found the presence of Devitt’s blood on the fur and noses of four of the pit bulls.
Residents of Littlerock, the Mojave Desert town of approximately 1,400 people in which the woman was mauled, reported fearing being attacked by packs of roving dogs so much that they carried with them guns, sticks and rocks in order to protect themselves. Some even kept their children inside.
Jackson’s brother, Vincent, relayed that Alex Jackson believes that he does bear partial responsibility for Devitt’s death and had even penned a letter to her husband which he never mailed. Vincent Jackson believes that his brother’s conviction for murder is a result of the bad reputation of pit bulls in his brother’s neighborhood, saying “It feels like they’re trying to make an example of him.” Alex Jackson’s lawyer, Al Kim, also believes that his client is being made to take the brunt for the frustration area residents are feeling with the abundance of abandoned dogs in their community.
Devitt’s husband, Ben, had hoped that Alex Jackson would be found guilty so that a precedent could be set and that dog owners would be made aware that their dogs can be dangerous. According to the National Canine Research Council, there are approximately 30 people per year who die in dog attacks. It is rare for owners of dogs to be charged with murder because it is necessary to prove that the owners’ were aware that their dogs posed a danger to other people before the fatal attack occurred.
By Jennifer Pfalz