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December 22, 2014

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Man is guilty of murder after his dogs kill woman

LANCASTER, Calif. — A jury on Friday found a man guilty of murder after his pit bulls mauled a woman to death in a high desert town in California where residents said they carried rocks and guns for protection against packs of dogs.

Alex Donald Jackson, 31, was convicted of second-degree murder and could get 24 years to life in prison at his sentencing scheduled for Oct. 3.

Jackson owned four pit bulls that mauled 63-year-old Pamela Devitt during her morning walk in Littlerock on May 9, 2013.

Devitt died from blood loss after being bitten 200 times, the coroner's office said. Gashes in her flesh were so deep that bone was exposed.

Prosecutors argued that Jackson was not just negligent but also knew that his animals could endanger someone's life. They presented evidence that the dogs were involved in at least seven other altercations in the 18 months before the fatal attack.

In Littlerock, an Antelope Valley town of about 1,400 people, residents told the Los Angeles Times that they were often cornered by packs of dogs. Some have forbid their children from playing outside and have taken to carrying sticks, rocks and guns for protection.

Vincent Jackson said his brother Alex has accepted some responsibility in the case and wrote a letter to the victim's husband that was never sent. Still, Vincent Jackson thinks the murder charge is a knee-jerk reaction to the community's disdain for pit bulls.

"It feels like they're trying to make an example of him," Vincent Jackson said about his brother.

Defense attorney Al Kim echoed that sentiment, saying his client was taking the brunt of the rural area's growing frustration over abandoned animals.

"At some point, something needs to be done about these stray dogs, and I think an unfair amount of responsibility is being directed at my client," Kim said before the verdict was returned. "Does that mean he's a murderer? Absolutely not."

The National Canine Research Council estimates about 30 people are killed by dogs each year. Murder charges are rare because prosecutors must prove that the defendant knew the dogs were dangerous before the killing.

In trial testimony, several horseback riders said they had been chased or bitten by Alex Jackson's dogs. Neighbors said the dogs jumped over a fence and made it difficult to retrieve mail. A mail carrier testified that he was unable to make a delivery to Alex Jackson's residence because of a threatening dog that eventually chased his vehicle for half a mile.

Jackson testified that he was unaware of most of the incidents. He said he would have gotten rid of the dogs if he thought they were capable of killing someone.

At the time of his arrest, Jackson had eight dogs living at the home he shared with his mother. He had placed the four involved in the attack in his garage.

"I feel terrible about it. This isn't anything that I orchestrated or planned, that I wanted to have happen," he said.

Animal control officers testified that an inebriated Jackson told them shortly after the attack: "If you mess with me, you're coming into the lions' den."

The victim's husband, Ben Devitt, said he wanted a guilty verdict to set a precedent and make people aware that their dogs can create a dangerous situation.

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