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Witnesses recall attack by dogs belonging to man on trial for murder

Dogs belonging to man facing murder charge in mauling death attacked before, witnesses say

Two horseback riders recalled in an Antelope Valley courtroom Thursday the frenzied moments when a pack of dogs attacked them, leaving them frightened and their horses bloodied. 

Epifanio Maldonado and Eladio Lopez said they were swarmed by the pit bulls about 1 p.m. on Jan. 13, 2013, as they rode near 115th Street and Avenue S in Littlerock.

The owner of the dogs, Alex Donald Jackson, 31, is on trial for murder stemming from a separate incident that occurred months after Maldonado and Lopez said they encountered the pack. 

Testimony from the pair and others who say they were attacked by Jackson's dogs could be used by prosecutors to establish that Jackson knew his dogs were dangerous prior to the May 9, 2013, mauling death of Pamela Devitt, 63.

The retired office manager was on her morning walk when four of Jackson's dogs attacked her. An autopsy revealed she received between 150 and 200 puncture wounds. 

During their respective testimonies, Maldonado and Lopez provided slightly differing accounts of the day. Maldonado said five or six pit bulls attacked them, Lopez said he believed there were between eight and 10 dogs. Maldonado said homes in the desert community were visible from a distance, whereas Lopez believed they were riding near a home. 

Both agreed through a Spanish-language translator, however, that they feared the dogs would bite them. 

"They were trying to bite us. But the horses were jumping around. They didn't let that happen to us," Maldonado said.

Further into the prosecution's questioning, Maldonado appeared to fight back tears as the audio recording of the 911 call he placed was played for jurors. He said it made him recall his nerves on that day.

One of the pit bulls bit the back of his horse's leg, just above the hock. Another sunk its teeth into one of his boots. During the chaos, Maldonado said Jackson threw at least two golfball-sized rocks at him.

"Get out of here. You guys don't live here," Maldonado recalled Jackson, who was about 40 feet away, shouting. 

Lopez rode in circles trying to shake the dogs, eventually riding off. The dogs gave chase -- Lopez said he rode for three miles as at least three dogs trailed him, biting at the back of his horse's legs. Lopez traced his path on a map that was projected on a screen to the jury, explaining the dogs were scared away once a woman came out from a home and chased them off with a piece of wood. 

"The attack was very intense and all we were trying to do was run away," he said. 

During opening statements Wednesday, Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Ryan Williams said that central to whether Jackson is found guilty of Devitt's murder is whether he knew his dogs were capable of violence. Williams told jurors he was confident they would quickly render a guilty verdict after hearing testimony from people who had been attacked by the dogs. 

Friends of Jackson, as well as defense attorney Al Kim, however, have strongly countered the prosecution's depiction of Jackson as someone who deliberately trained his dogs to be violent, casting him instead as a lifelong animal lover who cared for abandoned dogs.

In addition to the murder charge for Devitt’s death, Jackson faces drug charges as well as an assault with a deadly weapon charge from the allegations of rock-throwing. His trial continues Friday at 9:45 a.m.  

For breaking news in Los Angeles and throughout the Southland, follow @debbietruong or email her at debbie.truong@latimes.com.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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