It’s rare for someone to die from a dog attack and even rarer for the dog owner to get hard time in prison for it. But Alex Donald Jackson faces 24 years to life after Los Angeles County Superior Court jurors took less than a day to find him guilty of second-degree murder in the grisly death of 63-year-old Pamela Devitt.
Devitt died in May 2013 when four of Jackson’s pit bulls attacked her in the small Southern California town of Littlerock. An autopsy found 200 puncture wounds, according to the Los Angeles Times. Prosecutors said Jackson knew the dogs were dangerous but didn’t try to control them.
Littlerock is littered with abandoned stray dogs. It’s been a long-running problem in the low-income Antelope Valley town north of L.A. and, according to the Times, some people do not allow their children to play outside because of them. Jackson reportedly owned eight dogs.
Prosecutors said they had evidence that Jackson’s dogs were involved in at least seven other incidents prior to the Devitt attack. Horseback riders told stories of the dogs biting their horses, nipping at their boots and chasing them down a trail. Mail carriers had nothing good to say about them.
The National Canine Research Council says there is no national system for compiling reports of dog bites, but maintains they have “dramatically decreased” since the 1970s. The council reports there were 33 dog-related fatalities in 2013 and compares that favorably to 35,332 unintentional motor vehicle deaths, 33,041 deaths from unintentional poisoning and 26,009 from unintentional falls.
The council is sympathetic to pet owners who complain that dogs are wrongly stigmatized as violent creatures, especially certain breeds. Dogbite.org—their homepage catchphrase is “Some dogs don’t let go” —is not.
The group said that while pit bulls make up about 6% of the dog population, they contributed to 78% (25) of dog-bite deaths in 2013. Along with rottweilers, they were said to be responsible for 74% of the 176 fatal attacks (pdf) in the nine years between 2005 and 2013. Rottweilers were blamed for 33 of the deaths.
Although rare, Jackson is not the only dog owner convicted of a murder committed by his pet. In 2001, 33-year-old All-American lacrosse player Diane Whipple was front page national news after being killed outside her San Francisco apartment door by two huge Presa Canario dogs.
The dogs were kept as pets in the upscale 800-square-foot Pacific Heights apartment by two attorneys, 46-year-old Marjorie Knoller and 60-year-old Robert Noel. The 125-pound Bane jumped the 110-pound Whipple in the hallway before and after Knoller also physically engaged Whipple in what may have been a hostile encounter. Whipple died after being bitten 77 times.
That case took a bizarre turn when the dog’s owners were linked to white supremacist Paul Schneider, serving a life term in prison, who was planning to operate a business breeding and selling aggressive Presa Canario dogs to illegal drug labs. They met Schneider while doing legal work at Pelican Bay State Prison, where guards were accused of abusing inmates.
The couple adopted the 38-year-old man shortly after the mauling incident amid tales of an unusual sexual triad and rumors of bestiality.
Knoller was convicted of second-degree murder. It was thought to be only the third time in history that a person had been convicted in this country for their dog’s actions. After a series of appeals and new trials, Knoller was sentenced to 15 years in prison in September 2008. Noel was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to four years.
Jackson’s case, while not as colorful, was just as deadly.