A Southern California dog-owner arrested after four pit bulls attacked and killed a woman near her home was ordered held on $1.05 million bail on Friday after being charged with second-degree murder.
Alex Donald Jackson, 29, was charged on Thursday in what legal experts said was an unusual instance of prosecutors accusing a dog owner of murder in a fatal mauling, especially when the owner may not have been present during the attack.
Jackson was arrested a day after the May 9 incident in the high desert community of Littlerock after Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies searching for the dogs said they found a marijuana "grow operation" at his home.
Six pit bulls and two mixed breed dogs were seized from Jackson's house. Some were found with blood on their coats and muzzles that authorities said forensic DNA tests linked to the victim, 63-year-old Pamela Maria Devitt.
Jackson did not enter a plea on Friday at a hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court of Antelope Valley, during which Judge Steven Odgen set his bail.
According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Devitt had been walking or jogging when pit bulls attacked her on a roadside in the community, about 65 miles (105 km) east of Los Angeles. Devitt died in an ambulance of blood loss after suffering 150 to 200 puncture wounds.
Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Samantha Macdonald said that since January authorities had received at least three other reports of Jackson's pit bulls attacking people. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
"We're just going to try to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law," Macdonald told reporters after Friday's hearing. "Our theory is implied malice."
Stan Goldman, a criminal law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said it was rare for the state to seek a murder conviction against a dog owner and that such cases were more often prosecuted as involuntary manslaughter or gross negligence.
Jackson's lawyer, Robert Chu, left court on Friday without speaking with reporters.
In 2001, Diane Whipple, a 33-year-old collegiate lacrosse player and coach, was fatally mauled by two Presa Canarios, a dog breed that can grow as large as 130 lbs (60 kg), in a hallway outside her San Francisco apartment.
The dog's owners, a married couple who lived in the same apartment building, were convicted of involuntary manslaughter and the wife was found guilty of second-degree murder.