Owners guilty in fatal pit bull attack

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SAN DIEGO — A San Diego jury convicted a mother and daughter of involuntary manslaughter in the mauling death of their 75-year-old neighbor, who was attacked by the defendants’ two pit bulls.

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.

Alba Cornelio cried loudly when the judge made his custody order and had to be taken out of the courtroom by paramedics.

Deputy District Attorney Makenzie Harvey told jurors 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.

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.


  • Michael

    Glad to hear. Idiots that raise dangerous animals should be held FULLY accountable by law. They should also have their rights to own any type of dog taken away for life. Dogs aren't born aggressive, it is the owners that make them aggressive. Hope you get the max sentence allowed by law.

  • Assault-Style Clip

    I'm glad to hear the defendants were remorseful for what happened…oh wait, they weren't. In fact, they were more concerned about not going to jail than the death of their neighbor. I hope they suffer while incarcerated.

  • Rock

    “Those dogs did something completely unexpected,” O’Connell said.

    Now that is a rediculous statement.

    These are land sharks and are inherently dangerous. They were not bred to be lap dogs !!
    Pitbulls require extra attention and training to help prevent this type of thing from happening.
    This mother daughter team obviously didn't give a $hit about anyone but themselves,

  • Guest

    hmmm '…each face up to four years in prison when sentenced March 11.'
    4 years?? thats all? for a life?? for SLOWLY killing someone? destroying a family's golden years?

    and in other LOCAL news…some 28yo guy/kid gets 12.5 years in prison for prostituting a 14yo girl.

    • Terilynn

      My friends son, Harley Aaron Pruitt (mentally challenged) was beat to death May 2, 2012 in Chauncey Ohio by Gary Wooten (boxer). They had a pre-sentencing hearing this last Wednesday March 27, 2013; the prosecution is seeking 5 years work release for scum Wooten!!! Unbelievable!!!

  • chuck

    Don't believe they didn't know tose dogs were dangerous. The dogs didn't learn that type of activity with no help from the owners. Hang them both from a tall tree and show it on TV. People like these should not be allowed to draw another breath. There was no self defence there and, the victum didn't deserve to die because of two worthless neighbors.

  • B Peters

    Pitbulls are not human agressive by nature. They have to be taught this behavior, through neglect or intentional agressive training. The owners bear full responsibility for this action. Since this breed is loving by nature, these particular animals have been horribly abused, and the owners should have additional time added to their sentences for animal cruelty.

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