Pit bull attack: Arraignment delayed for owner facing rare murder charge

Alex Jackson has been charged with murder after several pit bulls belonging to him mauled a woman to death.
Alex Jackson has been charged with murder after several pit bulls belonging to him mauled a woman to death. NBC LA

It could be a tough case for Los Angeles prosecutors to prove that the owner of pit bull dogs that mauled a woman to death in the Antelope Valley area is guilty of murder.

Pamela Maria Devitt, 63, was on a morning walk in the Littlerock neighborhood on May 9 when four pit bull dogs attacked her. She died on the way to the hospital after losing too much blood.

On Thursday, L.A. County sheriff deputies arrested the dogs’ owner, Alex Donald Jackson, 29. The county district attorney’s office filed six charges against him, including murder.

The complaint alleges that Jackson knew of the dogs' "propensities," that he allowed them to roam at large and that they killed Devitt.

Jackson's arraignment hearing, which was scheduled for Friday in Lancaster, was postponed to June 14. He is being held on $1.05 million bail. 

“I do think they’re really pushing it,” said Los Angeles criminal defense attorney, Kenneth Lewis.

What's the difference?

Lewis said he thinks Jackson should have been charged with manslaughter. Here's the very basic difference between the two: Murder requires intent to kill; manslaughter doesn’t require intent.

In this case, L.A. prosecutors allege that Jackson’s actions were so reckless that there is an implied intent to commit murder.

Lewis said prosecutors would have to show that Jackson somehow knew the dogs posed a lethal risk to human life and acted in a way that showed disregard for life.

“He’s got to know that they’re dangerous, that they would be capable of killing somebody,” he said.

Other legal experts said the murder charge Jackson faces for the fatal dog mauling will be a "long shot" for prosecutors to prove. Though charging someone with murder for a fatal dog attack is rare, it is not new.

The National Canine Research Council said there is a national trend of dog owners or caretakers being criminally charged when their dogs attack and kill people. California has followed that trend.

Below are prosecutions in California, according to the council: 

  • 1980-1989 there were 4 criminal charges filed.
  • 1990-1999 there was 1 criminal charge filed.
  • 2000-2009 there were 6 criminal charges filed.

One past case from San Francisco – which was tried in Los Angeles – is very similar to the current Antelope Valley case.

In that case, a San Francisco woman was convicted by an L.A. jury of second-degree murder for the dog-mauling death of a woman. The dogs, two Presa Canarios, attacked the victim in the apartment building.

The judge later overruled the jury and bumped down the conviction to manslaughter, but an appeals court overturned the judge's ruling and reinstated the murder conviction.

Jackson also faces additional criminal charges for allegedly growing marijuana in his house for profit.

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