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Pitbull owner sentenced after dogs maul woman to death

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A Southern California man found guilty of second-degree murder because his pit bull dogs mauled and killed a woman has received a 15-year prison sentence.

Alex Donald Jackson, 31, of Littlerock was convicted in September in the mauling death of Pamela Devitt, a 63-year-old retiree on a morning walk in the small high desert town.

Walking by herself and without a phone, Devitt was attacked by four pit bulls that jumped a fence and attacked her, biting her close to 200 times and severing an arm.

Although alive when paramedics reached her, she died of cardiac arrest in the ambulance carrying her to a local hospital.

Sheriff's deputies looking for the dogs originally arrested Jackson when they uncovered a marijuana-growing operation inside his house.

The murder charge came after bloody fur on four of his eight dogs yielded DNA identified as Devitt's.

Prosecutors said Jackson had been given warnings about the violent nature of his dogs, which had been involved in a number of altercations before their attack on Devitt.

He was aware the dogs, kept to protect his marijuana growing activities, were dangerous, prosecutors charged.

Jackson, who was sentenced Friday, could have faced up to 24 years in prison.

A murder conviction of a dog's owner after a fatal mauling is rare, experts said.

In 2001 a neighbor of a San Francisco woman was convicted of second-degree murder after the woman was mauled to death in the hallway of her apartment building.

Similar charges are pending against a Michigan couple whose dogs attacked and killed a jogger outside their home near Detroit.

Prosecutors in such incidents normally base their arguments on the dogs' owners being "reckless" in knowing a dog is dangerous enough to kill but doing nothing to prevent possible attacks.

The argument featured in the prosecution of Jackson.

"[Jackson's] actions in this case show that he has a nearly psychopathic disregard for the lives and well-being of others," Deputy District Attorney Ryan Williams said in his sentencing memo.

Dog experts and some pit bull advocates argue pit bulls are not inherently aggressive, but often suffer at the hands of owners who are attracted by the breed's macho image and consciously encourage an aggressive attitude in the animals for protection and fighting.

Some municipalities have passed ordinances banning pit bulls and other breeds with an aggressive reputation, such as Doberman pinschers and Rottweilers.

Originally considered no more dangerous than any other breed, the problems began when pit bulls began to attract owners who "weren't focused on the positive attributes of the breed -- they were looking for a strong, scary-looking dog," says Pamela Reid, vice president of the ASPCA's Animal Behavior Center in New York.

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