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Pitbull owner convicted of murder: Pamela Devitt, 63, mauled by dogs to the bone

Pitbull owner Alex Donald Jackson, 31, was convicted of second-degree murder for the 2013 mauling of 63-year-old Pamela Devitt in Littlerock, Calif.
Pitbull owner Alex Donald Jackson, 31, was convicted of second-degree murder for the 2013 mauling of 63-year-old Pamela Devitt in Littlerock, Calif.Bodina, Creative Commons

A California pitbull dog owner was convicted of second-degree murder by a jury of his peers in a case that not only exposed the brutality of the mauling death of 63-year-old Pam Devitt, who was attacked by four of the defendant's dogs, but also the seeming disregard the accused had toward his fellow residents of Littlerock, Calif. Alex Donald Jackson, Asia One reported Sept. 1, was found guilty of second-degree murder and could face a sentence of up to 24 years in prison.

Prosecutors went after 31-year-old Alex Jackson as a person with a reckless indifference toward the danger his pitbull dogs posed to his neighbors and others. "This defendant knew how dangerous these dogs were, and he didn't do anything about it," Deputy District Attorney Ryan Williams said.

Pamela Devitt was out for a morning walk on May 9, 2013, when she was set upon by Jackson's dogs. She would later die of blood loss during the ambulance ride to the hospital. Prosecutors noted the coroner's report that revealed she had been inflicted with over 200 punctures from the pitbull attack, some of the wounds tearing flesh to the bone.

Prosecutors showed that Jackson was negligent in his handling of his dogs, that he knew prior to Pamela Devitt's horrific death that the animals were a danger to humans. They presented witnesses and evidence indicating that the dogs were involved in at least nine biting incidents in the nine months before the fatal May attack, according to Reuters. Witnesses in two of the altercations testified that Alex Jackson stood by and did nothing while his pitbulls attacked passersby.

"He didn't do anything, didn't try to stop the dogs, didn't intervene," Williams said.

Jackson's case is a rare one in that dog owners, where their dogs have been involved in a killing, are usually only charged with manslaughter or some legal qualification of gross negligence, Stan Goldman, a criminal law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles told Reuters. But when an owner is deemed to have been overly negligent or indifferent, prosecutors sometimes seek harsher convictions. Such was the case made against married couple in San Francisco when their two Presa Canarios, massive dogs that sometimes get as large as 130 pounds, mauled 33-year-old Diane Whipple to death in her own apartment building. Both defendants were convicted of involuntary manslaughter, while the wife was also convicted of second-degree murder.

But Alex Jackson's brother says that the prosecution and conviction of his brother was an unfair knee-jerk reaction to pitbulls. “It feels like they’re trying to make an example of him,” he said, according to the New York Daily News, revealing that his brother had written a remorseful letter to the Pamela Devitt's husband but never sent it.

Jackson's attorney, Al Kim, agrees, adding that the community was also fed up with an abandoned dog problem (although it might be argued that Littlerock, a high desert town of only 1,400 people, could not have had too much of a stray dog problem). "At some point," he said," something needs to be done about these stray dogs, and I think an unfair amount of responsibility is being directed at my client. Does that mean he’s a murderer? Absolutely not.”

But when a jury perceives the death of a woman due to willful indifference...

The National Canine Research Council estimates about 30 people are killed by dogs each year. The Council also notes that owners being criminally charged for the actions of their dogs has been on the increase in recent years. Although legal action was taken against owners in 11.5 percent of cases nationally between 1990-1999, an increase of a little less than 2 percent over the previous decade, the following 12 years (2000-2012) saw any dramatic increase to 25.63 percent of cases producing criminal charges.

Even though the National Canine Research Council says that several dog breeds have been named in attacks and in many cases the breed was not known, Dogbite.org notes that pitbull attacks were responsible for 62 percent of all dog bite fatalities (176 out of 283) in the U. S. between 2005 and 2013.