Mother, daughter found guilty in pit bull attack that led to neighbor's death

Emako Mendoza died from wounds from attack

SAN DIEGO - A mother and daughter whose two pit bulls attacked their 75-year-old neighbor -- who succumbed to her injuries several weeks later -- were convicted Monday of involuntary manslaughter and owning a dangerous animal causing death.

Alba Cornelio, 41, and her 21-year-old daughter, Carla, each face up to four years in prison when sentenced March 11.

The defendants were taken into custody after the verdicts despite a plea from defense attorneys that the mother is battling leukemia and also has a heart condition. Superior Court Judge Richard Whitney said the defendants posed a possible danger to the community and were a risk to flee.

Minutes after Alba Cornelio learned the verdict, she began to wail. She was so out of breath she nearly fainted and left the courthouse in the back of an ambulance.

Deputy District Attorney Makenzie Harvey told jurors -- nine women and three men -- that the defendants knew their dogs were dangerous because the canines had attacked a man and his puppy six months before the attack on Emako Mendoza.

Harvey said the mother and daughter were on notice that their pit bulls were dangerous, but were "indifferent" until the dogs attacked Mendoza in her back yard garden the morning of June 18, 2011, in Paradise Hills.

"Mrs. Mendoza was literally ripped to shreds by these two pit bulls," Harvey told the San Diego Superior Court jury.

The manslaughter charge was added three weeks after Emako Mendoza died of complications from the attack at her home. She was 76 when she died on Christmas Eve 2011.

Mendoza was attacked in her fenced-in yard when she went outside to get her newspaper. The victim's left arm had to be amputated below the elbow and her left leg amputated below the knee. Doctors later amputated her right leg.

Mendoza's husband told 10News last year that the neighbors never apologized for the incident.

Witnesses testified at earlier hearings that the pit bulls got through a gap in the fence, ripping a hole near a metal gate that the victim's husband had installed to bridge the gap in the fence between the two properties.    

John O'Connell, the attorney for Carla Cornelio, told the jury that it was not a crime to own pit bulls.

"What happened that day was not a crime," O"Connell said.

In the six years the defendants owned the pit bulls, they only had the one problem with the dogs getting out and biting the man and his puppy, the attorney said.

After that, Carla took the dog that bit the man and his puppy to the veterinarian and had her brother fix the fence, O'Connell said.

Despite those precautions, the dogs were able to get through the fence the morning Emako Mendoza was attacked, he said.

"Those dogs did something completely unexpected," O'Connell said.

Outside the courtroom, Harvey talked about the two women being a flight risk

"(The judge decided) to take the defendants into custody, pending sentencing, citing both a public safety risk, based on owning the pit bulls in this case, as well as a potential flight risk," said Harvey.

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