Pamela Devitt was taking a morning walk through her neighborhood earlier this month when a pack of pit bulls mauled her.
The retired office manager suffered 150 to 200 puncture wounds in the fatal attack. When the first sheriff's deputy arrived on the scene in the Antelope Valley town of Littlerock, he saw Devitt on the ground with one of the dogs still mauling her.
On Thursday, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office charged the dogs' owner with murder. Prosecutors could not recall ever filing a similar murder case, but said the incident warranted such serious charges because the owner's dogs had attacked others before mauling Devitt.
Join Times reporters Richard Winton and Kate Mather at 9 a.m. Friday to discuss the decision to file murder charges and how people in the Littlerock community felt about the dangers of roaming packs of dogs.
District attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison said authorities had received at least three reports of attacks by dogs belonging to Alex Donald Jackson, 29, since January.
"We believe there was evidence that he was aware the dogs were vicious and they have attacked before and he knew of the danger they posed," Robison said.
Jackson, who authorities say was growing marijuana in his home, was arrested Thursday and is being held on $1,050,000 bail. He is expected to be arraigned Friday.
Devitt, 63, died en route to a hospital, and the attack sparked outrage in the neighborhood and beyond. Sheriff's officials said detectives found Devitt's blood on the muzzle and coats of four of Jackson's eight dogs.
"There's no way I can get the brutality of this out of my head," Devitt's husband, Ben Devitt, told The Times. "The fact that there's animals out there roaming around with that kind of killer instinct, it's just kind of something I can't shake."
Animal control officials took custody of Jackson's dogs.
Murder cases involving dog attacks remain extremely rare, despite an increasing willingness by prosecutors throughout the country to file other types of charges, such as manslaughter and child endangerment, said Donald Cleary, a spokesman for the National Canine Research Council. The organization, which tracks dog attack cases, documented 34 dog-related fatalities last year. Six resulted in prosecutions; none involved murder charges.
Cleary said fatal dog attacks tend to occur in outlying locations much like Littlerock, a desert community of about 1,400 where chain-link fences surround scattered homes and signs caution trespassers and warn that dogs are present.