Prosecutor: Owners of pit bulls that attacked elderly neighbor knew dogs were dangerous

SAN DIEGO -  

The owners of two pit bulls that attacked their 75-year-old neighbor – resulting in her death – knew the dogs were dangerous because of the canines attacked a man and his puppy six months earlier, a prosecutor said Monday.

In her opening statement in the trial of Alba and Carla Cornelio, Deputy District Attorney Makenzie Harvey said the mother and daughter were on notice that their pit bulls were dangerous, but were "indifferent" until the dogs attacked Emako Mendoza in her back yard garden the morning of June 18, 2011.

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

The defendants are charged with involuntary manslaughter and owning a mischievous animal causing death – both felonies – and six misdemeanor code violations, including failing to protect the public from a dog and owning a dangerous dog.

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

Alba Cornelio, 41, and her 21-year-old daughter, Carla, each face up to four years and eight months in prison if convicted, the prosecutor said.

Emako 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.

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.

Harvey alleged the defendants knew they had dangerous dogs because the same pit bulls escaped from their yard on Christmas Day 2010 and attacked a man who was walking his puppy. The dog suffered a broken jaw and the man was bitten.

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.

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