The Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, ruled December 26 that a woman who owned two pit bulls that killed a neighbor should not have been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter by a jury. Carla Ramirez Cornelio's conviction for owning an animal that kills a human being, also a felony, stands. She had been sentenced to four years in local custody. That sentence has been remanded for resentencing; other complaints that she filed with the appeals court "either lack merit or need not be addressed," said the appeals court.
Cornelio owned two pit bulls that she kept in her back yard. The dogs were in the name of her mother, Alba Cornelio, because she had given them to her daughter before she was 18. Carla turned 18 in 2009. Alba Cornelio was convicted on the same charges that her daughter was, but Alba was not a party to the appeal.
In late 2010, the two pit bulls belonging to Cornelio attacked a neighbor, Arturo Lopez, and his young poodle. The poodle sustained serious injuries and Lopez was bitten, requiring a rabies shot. An animal control officer told the Cornelio family to secure their yard so the dogs could not get out. The Cornelio family picked up at least some of Lopez's expenses. One of the pit bulls was quarantined, but she was so aggressive that shelter personnel could not perform a complete examination.
James Mendoza and his wife of 55 years, 75-year-old Emako Mendoza, were immediate neighbors of the Cornelios. Both the Mendozas and Cornelios erected barriers that, they believed, would keep the pit bulls from escaping. Mrs. Mendoza normally arose at 5:30 a.m. to pick up the newspaper and water her rose garden. On June 18, 2011, Mr. Mendoza found his wife lying in her rose garden; her left leg and left arm "were just hanging by a thread, completely mutilated," according to Superior Court testimony. There was a large gash in her right arm and it was dangling. Police were called and found that the dogs had blood on their mouths, faces, chests, and heads. Cornelio admitted to police that she took care of the dogs. "Cornelio saw her two dogs in the Mendozas' back yard near Mrs. Mendoza, who was lying on the ground screaming, hurt and bleeding," according to the appeals court. The dogs, who had gotten through a hole in a fence, were subsequently euthanized.
Mrs. Mendoza suffered more than 50 dog bites and multiple lacerations. Her left leg was amputated above the knee and her left arm above the elbow. She suffered a heart attack from the trauma. Subsequently, says the appeals court, "Her kidneys failed, she caught pneumonia and she suffered two more heart attacks." On December 24 of 2011, she died in the hospital.
In the appeal, Cornelio contended that the law applying to an owner of an animal that kills a human preempted the law that describes involuntary manslaughter because the first law is more specific and more applicable to the circumstances.
Cornelio also claimed that the judge wrongly permitted the prosecution to show photos of the extent of Mrs. Mendoza's injuries. Cornelio's lawyer argued that showing the photos was, in effect, an attempt to prejudice the jury. The appeals court disagreed.