LOS ANGELES––Alex Donald Jackson, 31, of Littlerock, California, was on August 29, 2014 found guilty of second-degree murder for the pit bull mauling death of Palmdale resident Pamela Devitt, 63.
The case was among at least five murder or manslaughter by dog cases recently before U.S. courts, all of them involving “bully breeds.”
In three of the five cases, including the Jackson case, animal control agencies failed to impound the dogs after previous incidents. In a fourth case, an animal control agency waived shelter policy to permit a pit bull to be adopted without prior sterilization.
Devitt suffered 150 to 200 puncture wounds and bled to death, according to the Los Angeles County coroner, after she was attacked during a walk by several of Jackson’s pit bulls.
“Eight dogs were seized from Jackson’s home,” reported Ashley Soley-Cerro of KTLA-5. “DNA tests found Devitt’s blood on four the pit bulls’ coats and snouts, the Sheriff’s Department stated. Three reports of attacks by dogs owned by Jackson were made in the five months preceding the deadly attack, and a fourth report was made in 2006.
Jackson was charged with murder, Los Angeles County district attorney’s spokesperson Jane Robison said, because “We believe there was evidence that he was aware the dogs were vicious, they had attacked before, and he knew of the danger they posed.”
South Carolina Supreme Court
The Jackson verdict came nine days after the South Carolina Supreme Court reinstated the January 2012 conviction of Bentley Collins, 54, for involuntary manslaughter. Collins was charged two days after six of his pit bulls killed John Matthew Davis, 10, on the evening of November 3, 2006, as Davis walked home from a neighbor’s house.
Recalled Traci Bridges of the Florence Morning News, “A jury convicted Collins of involuntary manslaughter and three counts of owning a dangerous animal and allowing the animal to be unconfined, resulting in the death of the boy. Collins was sentenced to five years in prison on the involuntary manslaughter charge, plus three years suspended to five years probation on the dangerous animal charges.”
Later in 2012, however, the South Carolina Court of Appeals overturned Collins’ involuntary manslaughter conviction and prison sentence, holding that Circuit Judge Paul Birch should not have allowed the prosecution to show the jury a photographs documenting the extent of Davis’ injuries––including, Bridges wrote, “how the dogs mauled him so badly his bones were exposed and his ears and nose eaten. The judges said the pathologist testified to the injuries, so the photographs did nothing more than rile the jury’s emotions.”
Summarized South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty, “We conclude, contrary to the Court of Appeals, that the trial court did not abuse its wide scope of discretion in admitting the pre-autopsy photos. The Court of Appeals’ obvious revulsion for the evidence, while certainly understandable, permeated its legal analysis. The evidence was highly probative, corroborative and material in establishing the elements of the offenses charged; its probative value outweighed its potential prejudice; and the appellate court should not have invaded the trial court’s discretion in admitting this crucial evidence based on its emotional reaction to the subject matter presented.”
Murder by Cane Corso
In Michigan, Lapeer County Prosecutor Tim Turkelson on July 31, 2014 issued second-degree murder warrants against Sebastiano Quagliata, 45, and his companion, Valbona Lucaj, 44, of Metamora Township. Two Cane Corsos kept by Quagliata and Lucaj on July 23, 2014 allegedly killed jogger Craig Sytsma, 46.
Investigators found 11 Cane Corsos at the Quagliata/Lucaj home, including seven puppies.
Quagliata and Lucaj already had considerable history involving dogs. They “never showed up for a court hearing last year after the wife was issued two civil infraction tickets when their dogs charged an older man and bit him in the leg,” recalled L.L. Brasier of the Free Press. “Ultimately, they paid $280 in fines, and the case was closed.
“In May 2012, one of Lucaj’s dogs charged April Smith, 25, tearing open her leg in three spots, as she walked down the road,” continued Brasier. “In that case, animal control officials did not issue tickets, nor were the owners fined. Instead, they were ordered to keep the dog quarantined for 10 days. Smith filed a lawsuit against the dog owners and was awarded a $20,000 judgment,” which reportedly has not been paid.
The attacks could have been taken to prosecutor Turkelson, but were not, Turkelsen said.
Continued Brasier, “At least one neighbor said she reported the dogs running freely in the rural neighborhood. Ashley Winter, 31, told the Free Press that when she called animal control, she was told to try to capture the animals or talk to her neighbor. Winter said she was too scared to approach her neighbor’s house because of the dogs.”
Quagliata, an Italian citizen, and Lucaj, a citizen of Albania, are also alleged illegal immigrants. Both have resided in the U.S. for more than 17 years. They have three U.S.-born children, ages 8, 12, and 15.
Explained Brasier of the Free Press, “The couple have been fighting deportation for years since immigration officials discovered that Lucaj had paid $3,000 to an immigration officer in New York to grant her asylum.”
Charged in Houston
Long anticipated death-by-dog charges were also filed in July 2014 against Timothy Dewayne Coleman and Tiara Deshawn Thomas, of Houston, Texas, who kept at least one of two pit bulls who on January 5, 2014 allegedly killed homeless woman Christina Burleson, 43, while roaming at large.
“We have evidence that the dog had killed another dog and been involved in two other attacks against people,” Harris County district attorney Devon Anderson told Click2Houston reporter Ryan Korsgard. “So this is a case where we’re frankly going to make an example of these two owners. We like dogs. I have a dog. But as a pet owner, you have to be responsible.”
Shelter waived s/n policy
In California, Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge John Kennedy on July 7, 2014 sentenced Steven Hayashi, 55, to serve one year in county jail for involuntary manslaughter in connection with the July 2010 fatal mauling of his grandson, Jacob Bisbee, age two.
Hayashi was in April 2014 convicted of leaving Bisbee and his four-year-old brother unattended, under circumstances which allowed the victim to wander into an unlocked garage housing five pit bulls. Three of the pit bulls were allegedly involved in the fatal attack––a female named Sadie and her two adult offspring.
Sadie was in April 2008 adopted, unaltered, from Lake County Animal Control in Lakeport, California. California state law since 1990 has required that dogs and cats adopted from public shelters must be sterilized, but allows counties of less than 100,000 residents to require only that adopters pay a refundable deposit against the cost of sterilizing the animal, rather than that the shelter must have the sterilization done before the animal is rehomed.
“Our policy has always been to spay and neuter any animal adopted from our facility. For animals not meeting the surgery requirements, or for those people who live out of county, the option to adopt via a spay neuter deposit still allows us to place the animal,” Lake County Animal Control deputy director Bill Davidson told ANIMALS 24-7. “At the time of the adoption, Hayashi lived in Antioch, California.”
Judge Kennedy allowed Hayashi to remain free pending appeal, much to the frustration of Contra Costa County prosecutor Mary Knox.
“I believe that he should have had to serve the 10 years [maximum] in state prison,” Knox told media. “Hayashi created the circumstances that led to his grandson’s death. This was a 100% preventable tragedy.”
Summarized Contra Costa Times reporter Gary Peterson, “’There were so many warning signs,’ Knox said, citing a family Chihuahua who was ‘basically eviscerated by the pit bulls,’ a cockatiel who was ‘ripped to shreds’ and an incident two weeks before the fatal attack when Jacob wandered out of the house and was about to step onto busy Concord Boulevard when a passerby intervened. She also reminded Kennedy that Hayashi had been asked several times by family members to get rid of the dogs, and that although Hayashi cared for Jacob and his brother Jeremy, there were ‘literally no child safety locks anywhere in that house.’”