After being mauled by four unrestrained pit bulls on an isolated Littlerock road, 63-year old jogger Pamela Devitt died in an ambulance from blood loss resulting from approximately 150 to 200 dog bites. Genetic tests from tissue found on the muzzles and coats of the dogs matched Ms. Devitt. The owner of the dogs, 29-year old Littlerock resident Alex Jackson faces life in prison after being charged with her murder.
Dog bites injure and kill people across the country each year. Most victims are young children or older adults. Known as an aggressive breed, pit bulls are especially dangerous when:
Not well socialized
Isolated from people
In California, the owner of any dog is liable for damages or injury caused by their dog. While most dog injury cases are civil matters, in this case law enforcement took the unusual step of charging the owner with murder.
There is some precedent for murder charges following a dog mauling. One case involved the mauling death of Diane Whipple, a lacrosse player and coach after she was bitten over 77 times in the hallway of her San Francisco apartment building by two Perro de Presa Canario dogs in 2001. In that case, the owners of the dogs who killed Ms. Whipple were convicted of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.
In both cases, the dogs involved in the fatal attacks were known to be dangerous. Law enforcement noted the dogs owned by Mr. Jackson had been reported for attacking humans on three earlier occasions since January.
California law looks to the owner of a dog for strict liability when their dog injures another on public property. Ms. Devitt was apparently walking or jogging on public land. Although unlikely, proving the dogs were not legally owned by Mr. Jackson could relieve him of the liability for the criminal and likely civil charges he will face.