SAN DIEGO — A woman whose two pit bulls attacked her 75-year-old next-door neighbor, resulting in her death months later, was sentenced Monday to four years in state prison.
Cornelio’s mother, Alba, was also convicted but will be sentenced later because she is hospitalized with leukemia and a heart condition.
Attorney John O’Connell, representing Carla Cornelio, asked for leniency from the judge prior to sentencing.
“Carla did not commit this attack,” he said. “She did not kill Mrs. Mendoza. She’s a good person, providing for her family when her mother got sick. If it wasn’t for these dogs, you’d never see her in court.”
James Mendoza pleaded with the court to impose the maximum sentence, saying his wife “was completely tore up. I hope they do some suffering, just like my wife did. She suffered a lot.”
The victim had to have her left leg amputated below the knee. Doctors later amputated her right leg.
Superior Court Judge Richard Whitney said he was convinced by trial testimony that at least one of the canines was malnourished.
“The animals were neglected,” the judge said. “The animals were starving. The animals were poorly housed. The animals were feeding themselves.”
A female pit bull involved in the attack had “prominent” bones and the remains of two opossums in her digestive system when euthanized, indicated she had been hunting for food, the judge said.
Witnesses testified that the dogs got through a gap in a fence, ripping a hole near a metal gate that the victim’s husband had installed.
Prosecutor 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 Mendoza, which occurred in her Paradise Hills back yard garden the morning of June 18, 2011.
Mendoza was 76 when she died on Christmas Eve of that year.
The man in the previous dog attack suffered a minor wound but declined to press charges when the Cornelios offered to pay the poodle’s veterinary bills. No charges were filed since there were no witnesses to the attack.
The prosecutor described an enclosure in the Cornelios’ backyard constructed to separate the dogs from the human inhabitants as a “fortress.”
“These pit bulls were not pets,” Harvey said.
She said the Cornelios “were criminally negligent in allowing these dogs to get out and to attack” the woman.
O’Connell asserted that the canines were indeed pets, and noted that some sections of the backyard enclosure were only 4 feet high.
“The contention that these were super vicious dogs was not the case,” O’Connell said.
It was the the second time in 30 years that county animal services officials pursued a felony case against a dog owner.