California Man Charged With Murder In Pit Bull Attack

20130530__LDN-L-PIT-BULL-OWNER-ALAN-JACKSON31As previously discussed California’s infamous Knoller case involving a vicious dog attack and the sentencing of two lawyers for the death of a young woman coming home from a jog. Now, the owner of four pit bulls has been charged with the murder of a jogger with the use of DNA testing of the blood found on their snouts. Alex Johnson, 29, will stand trial in the death of Pamela Dewitt, 63, who was bitted 150 to 200 times by his pit bulls.


Police arrested Jackson immediately after the attack but released him pending the outcome of the DNA case. It is an example of how DNA (once treated as a rare, expensive process) is now being using in so many different aspects of our criminal justice system.

Working against Jackson are prior reports of his dogs attacking or threatening people, another striking similarity with earlier cases. Notably, a deputy arrived at the scene during the attack and tried to drive off the dogs, which attacked the deputy. Police later took away eight dogs from Jackson’s home, including six pit bulls and two mixed-breeds.

180px-Pit_bull_restrainedThe common law treats these cases under a strict liability standard. An owner is strictly liable for a dog with known vicious tendencies. This is sometimes called (inartfully) the “one free bite rule” since after the first bite, an owner has obvious knowledge. However, it sometimes does not require a bite to have such knowledge. Indeed, these laws can serve as such warnings.

One of the most infamous cases involved two lawyers. Lawyers Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel were successfully prosecuted after their huge “Presa Canario” dogs mauled and killed neighbor, Diane Whipple, in the hallway of her San Francisco apartment building in January 2001. Whipple was bitten 77 times and the dogs nearly severed her vertebrae.

Jurors found Marjorie Knoller’s husband, Robert Noel, guilty of involuntary manslaughter, and found Knoller guilty of second-degree murder.

The common law rule also applies to wild animals. Defining some animals as wild can be done with reference to statutes or the lack of animus revertendi (the habit of return). The most common category in the United States is the possession of wolves or part-wolf animals as pets.

This is a classic case for both tort and criminal law. The Knollers faced both forms of liability. Some towns have either banned or classified pit bulls as dangerous animals. In a move that is likely to become a trend, Tennessee is moving to require a minimum of $25,000 insurance policies for anyone possessing a pit bull or vicious dog. In another area, a woman reportedly lost her insurance coverage due to the ownership of a pit bull.

Jackson is facing life in prison if convicted.

29 thoughts on “California Man Charged With Murder In Pit Bull Attack”

  1. “The problem is that the type of person attracted to the idea of the pit bull is often a scumbag in the community. They like the idea of having a tough and aggressive dog and consequently the dog ends up becoming that way based upon what it is trained.”

    I think this accounts for any higher rate of pit bull attacks, rather than anything inherent in the breed.

    “So it is often a case of what do you do, ban the dog or ban the owner. (if banning is your thing) Much easier legally to ban the dog is the reality.”

    Yes, but is it more effective? If the problem is the owner, then banning pit bulls will just cause those owners who want a tough and aggressive dog to get a Rottweiler or German Shepherd or Bulldog, or whatever and train that dog accordingly. Then, you’ve done nothing about real problem of poorly disciplined and vicious dogs.

  2. It is an interesting legal argument how the attack (it seems, because I don’t have the case file to review) was one where the owner I am assuming did not order the dogs to attack this woman but yet the extreme indifference this dog owner shown in having multiple dogs that were complained to be nuissances and were guarding is illegal activity constituted the guilty act and the mind.

    I can see how some will say they know of nice pit bulls that are raised in good homes acting like any other dog. But, as someone said a chihuahua trained to be mean is more like a joke. Pitbulls, on the other hand, become dangerous when so trained.

    The problem is that the type of person attracted to the idea of the pit bull is often a scumbag in the community. They like the idea of having a tough and aggressive dog and consequently the dog ends up becoming that way based upon what it is trained.

    So it is often a case of what do you do, ban the dog or ban the owner. (if banning is your thing) Much easier legally to ban the dog is the reality.

    What I can say is the damage these dogs do can be great. Of the dog attack cases I had worked the pit bulls did the most damage.

  3. I knew someone who rescued pit bulls, and visited her often. Sure, some of her rescues were beyond help, due to how they were trained, but most were sweet. Most think that they are lap dogs, and your biggest threat is 45 lbs of slobbering dog staring up at you.

  4. I got bit by a brown recluse at school. I think the Principal was no Pal and should be prosecuted.

  5. A Veterinarian once told me that he believed Pit Bulls, in particular, are often so irresponsibly bred (to achieve abnormally massive jaws) that as adults they may have unrelenting head and neck pain that make them more prone to unprovoked aggressiveness. I’ve met some very sweet Pit Bulls but their head structure does look out of proportion and uncomfortable.

  6. For reasons I’ve tried to discern, SoCal is the pit bull capitol of the country. In San Diego they’re everywhere. I worked many civil cases involving pit bull attacks[this is not “sports or movies” so take this for what it’s worth]. They can be vicious animals. So, I was biased against them seeing the damage they can cause. However, my work was defending the homeowners and most were white trash[I’m in full non pc mode this morning]. So, I had some doubts. I’ve gotten to know several pit bull owners and dogs who are neighbors in San Diego. It is all about the owner and how they’re raised. The problem is, if you raise a Chihuahua to be vicious, they will nip your ankle. We know what pit bulls can do if raised to be vicious.

  7. I’m with those not in favor of banning by breed. I’m familiar with a number of pit bulls and they are loving gentle animals. In one instance I entered a home late at night where two pits were. They kept me just inside the door by gentle but firm force of their bodies. No teeth, no growling. Once they were convinced I wasn’t a threat, they let me in. Like most dogs, they just want to please.

    Dogs that attack are trained to do so and those that own or train such dogs are the ones to be banned. In this case, banning should be in court answering to murder charges.

  8. I’m skeptical that there’s something inherent in pit bulls that makes them different from other dogs. People were bit by dogs long before pit bulls became popular. And, even if you tried, how are you going to distinguish between a “pit bull” and some mix; it’s not like the people who keep a pack of dogs to protect their illegal marijuana grow operation like happened here are registering their dogs with the AKC, If pit bulls were banned, then it would just be another large breed of dog that became the media focus.

  9. Banning by breed is a bad idea. There are so many variations that you end up with a law that only a lawyer would love (oh wait, maybe that is what those wanting these laws are for?). Bad dogs happen due to breeding and treatment. There are many pit bulls that are wonderful and gentle. The one bite law is great, add to it any evidence of agressive behavior and I’d be happy, banning by breed is not the way to go.

  10. There are no bad dogs, only bad owners who make them that way. Thus the solution is to hold the owners accountable for having such dangerous animals and creating that hazard. Murder is the appropriate charge and hopefully other such criminals will get the message that they WILL go to prison for life if they are responsible for the death of others. This is the proper solution to the problem.

  11. The underlying dynamic is epigenics.

    The amygdala can be altered to perform the functions of a particular culture, which includes the epigenetic engineering of viciousness which can be carried forward transgenerationally.

    Our culture has a pit bull, if you will, that attacks weaker nations around the world all the time.

    But, like the owner of these pit bulls, a “crime” is one thing in the eye of one beholder, but another thing entirely in the eye of an Erik Holder.

  12. “You can’t fix stupid” but considering these circumstances this guys neighbors can be protected from stupid while he is in jail.

  13. The entire Johnson family has to be outlawed from that state. That would be the guy’s mom, dad, kids, and everything to second cousin once removed. If you are gonna outlaw dog breeds then outlaw the bad human breeds.

  14. Race, breed or creed is fine with me. Now you take those people from Chechnia who come in here with bent noses and make bombs for marathoners. That is definitely one class of people. Snakes: all poisonous snakes should be banned from Florida. Gators: likewise. Humans from New York City who talk turdy turd and a turd. Cubans who fled Castro in 1956 long before he was in the works, like that Rubio family of liars. Humans are no different than dog breeds. All mastiffs are alike right? Like that one in the photo of the other topic with the kid? Yeah its not discrimination to go after breeds of dogs or humans. Outlaw pitt bulls and only bulls with have outlaws.

  15. Yeah, if ya outlaw people by breed then you cut down on the killers. I think we ought to outlaw ex Marines from Florida– they are trained to kill on command and sometimes do so if you are of the wrong size or color.

  16. Justice Holmes is right. We got two Cubans here at the marina named Oliver and Wendell. They have all sorts of brothers and sisters of the same ilk, Cubans and off spring of Oliver’s father and Wendell’s uncle. Its just like dogs, if ya got a bad breed then outlaw em. Names like Oliver and Wendell have no place in sophisticated places like Florida.

  17. These dogs should be banned, but then the dog breeders will simply put those same traits into a different breed and the problem begins again. Also, when will these dog breeders be held accountable for breeding killers?

  18. Requiring insurance is obviously not enough because even if one gets a claim paid for a death that still leaves the victim, well, dead. Banning such dogs is really the only way to protect humans from the dogs and their reckless owners. Prosecutions of owners for the damage and deaths resulting from such attacks is also important.

    No doubt people will argue that pit bulls aren’t dangerous or its the owners fault. There are no bad dogs just bad owners. Well, too bad. It is time to start protecting the innocent humans from the instrumentalities put in motion by bad owners whether that be a dog or a gun,

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