Mom, Daughter Plead Not Guilty In Pit Bull Attack On Woman

Emako Mendoza, 75, Had Leg Amputated After Attack In 5800 Block Of Alleghany Street

A mother and daughter whose two pit bulls allegedly attacked a 75-year-old neighbor in her backyard -- causing part of a leg and an arm to be amputated -- pleaded not guilty Thursday to felony and misdemeanor charges.

Alba Medina Cornelio, 39, and her 19-year-old daughter, Carla Ramirez Cornelio -- held on $350,000 bail each -- were arrested Wednesday night in connection with the June 18 mauling of Emako Mendoza.

Mendoza, who can't breath on her own and remains unconscious, had her left arm amputated below the elbow and her left leg amputated below the knee, said Deputy District Attorney Makenzie Harvey. In addition, Mendoza's right leg is infected and will require surgery, the prosecutor said.

Each defendant was charged with two felony counts of having a mischievous animal that causes serious bodily injury and six misdemeanor code violations including owning a dangerous dog and restraint of dogs.

The defendants each faces more than three years in prison if convicted, Harvey said.

A preliminary hearing was set for July 15.

Harvey told Judge David Szumowski that Mendoza was attacked in her fenced-in yard right after she went outside to get the morning paper.

"The dogs, we believe, got through a gap that's in the defendants' fence, and then pushed through some barbed wire that the victim had in place to sort of cover the gap on their portion of the yard," the prosecutor said outside court.

Mendoza had gone out to get the newspaper when the two pit bulls broke through a chain-link fence dividing the properties and attacked her. The Cornelios woke up Mendoza's husband, James, by pounding on the front door.

"What woke me up [were] the girls next door," he said. "They come knocking on the door, they said that their dogs had gotten loose and they thought they were in my backyard."

James said he found his wife in the backyard.

"My wife was lying here," he said. "She was still screaming, you know, and she was all bloodied up. I took her and I covered her up the best I could and I ran in there and called 911."

At first, Emako Mendoza wasn't expected to survive. But her husband said his wife of 53 years is a fighter.

James Mendoza said it took a week for the Cornelios to come and apologize for the attack.

"I slammed the door in her face, I left her talking outside," he said.

Harvey said the defendants knew they had dangerous dogs because the same two pit bulls escaped from their yard last Christmas Day and attacked a man who was walking his puppy.

The puppy was badly injured and the man was bitten, Harvey said.

She said the pit bull was difficult to treat while quarantined because of its aggressive nature.

Harvey unsuccessfully argued that bail remain at $900,000 for each defendant, telling the judge that they were a flight risk because they had ties to Mexico and had money there.

The prosecutor said Carla Cornelio told authorities that she wanted to bail her mother out of custody so the mother could go to Mexico.

Harvey said the defendants' attitude when questioned by authorities has been "it wasn't their fault."

Defense attorney Donovan Dunnion said Alba Cornelio had an immigration "hold" but had been living in the United States for 19 years.

The attorney said the mother -- who has heart problems -- is supported by her two older children.

Dunnion said the defendants were very remorseful, and Alba Cornelio said she would trade places with the victim if she could.

"Imagine if it happened to you," Dunnion told reporters. "How would you feel? These are people who live a very simple life and they certainly never, ever in their lives have been out to harm anybody. These are people who've been very much traumatized by what's gone on."

Dunnion said it would be speculation to say that one of the dogs having puppies contributed to the attack on Mendoza.

"Because the dog has played with the neighbors, has played with the kids in the house, has played during parties with all the people at the parties," Dunnion said. "The dog's been a docile, caring dog throughout its entire life."

10News reporter John Carroll asked Dunnion about the Cornelios' delay in apologizing.

Carroll said, "The husband himself said that they waited a week to come and apologize."

Dunnion responded, "Well, sir, I'm not going to argue with you, sir."

Carroll continued, "But it was the husband of the victim who said it."

Dunnion answered, "My information is contrary to yours."

The Mendozas have lived in the home for 42 years, and their neighbor had been raising pit bulls for about 10 years. Mendoza's husband said the dogs made a racket but had not caused problems until now.

Though both dogs were euthanized, Mendoza's husband said the owner must pay as well.

"I hope these people have plenty of money because I am going to sue them for plenty," he said.

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