Pit Bull Owner, Carla Cornelio, Gets 4 Years in Prison for Fatal Dog Attack on San Diego Woman

| by Denise A Justin

Carla Cornelio, 21, of Paradise Hills, was sentenced on Monday, March 12, to four years in prison on charges of involuntary manslaughter after two pit bulls she owned fatally mauled a 75-year-old neighbor, Emako Mendoza, in June 2011.

Carla Cornelio and her mother, Alba Cornelio, 41, were both found guilty of the felony charge last month, as well as two counts each of owning a mischievous animal that caused a death.

Alba Cornelio’s sentencing was postponed to April 8 because she is in the hospital. She suffers from a heart condition and leukemia, according to her defense attorneys. When she appears in court, she will face the same sentence as her daughter, U-T San Diego reports.

On June 18, 2011, 75-year-old Emako Mendoza went out to pick the newspaper in her yard on Alleghany Street around 6:30 a.m. She was brutally mauled by the two pit bulls that had pushed through a hole in a makeshift fence of boards and wires separating the properties, reports state.

James Mendoza, Emako’s husband of 53 years, said he was asleep in a front bedroom and was awakened by knocking on the door. It was the two women who owned the pit bulls, saying the dogs were in his yard.

Mr. Mendoza testified later that he found his wife lying in a pool of blood, crying and screaming, “Jim, Jim! Help me! Help me!’ He said he tried to cover her with a blanket.

Emako was so badly mauled that her left leg had to be amputated below the knee and her left arm was amputated below the elbow. According to her husband, “Her limbs were just hanging by threads.”

Doctors tried to save the limbs on her right side, but were unable to after they became infected as the frail woman weakened from prolonged effects of the injuries. The 76-year-old died on Christmas Eve 2011.

In court on Monday morning, James Mendoza said, “I have lost my dear wife of 55 years through no fault of her own. It has been very hard living in an empty house.”

He asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence on the Cornelios. “I hope they do some suffering like my wife did,” he said.

Deputy District Attorney Makenzie Harvey argued at the trial that the Cornelios not only knew that their dogs were dangerous, but also that they could get out through the hole in the fence.

The Cornelios’ attorneys rebutted that the defendants took insufficient action to fix the problem, by covering the hole with sticks and boards. Carla Cornelio’s defense attorney John O'Connell argued that no one could have predicted the attack.

However, Judge Richard Whitney disagreed. He said that the Cornelios knew they had dangerous animals. The pit bulls had earlier attacked a neighbor and his dog (which was a little poodle puppy,) and yet the mother and daughter did nothing to make sure it didn’t happen again.

Superior Court Judge Richard Whitney said he was convinced by testimony at trial that, "The animals were neglected," The animals were starving. The animals were poorly housed. The animals were feeding themselves."

In handing down the maximum sentence against Carla Cornelio, Judge Richard Whitney opined that the victim, Emako Mendoza, “…was subjected to immeasurable pain and that the suffering she had to go through was beyond human comprehension.”

Judge Whitney said, “She looked like she stepped on multiple land mines.”

Carla Cornelio was also ordered to pay restitution to the Mendoza family in an amount to be determined and to pay $2,400 in fines.


The Cornelios bred and sold pit bull puppies, according to animal control officials at the time of this tragic incident. The two 6-year-old female dogs and eleven puppies recently born to one of them were all relinquished and euthanized at the owners' request, according to San Diego Animal Control.

At the time of the attack, in addition to the Pit Bulls, the Cornelios also had four Chihuahuas at the residence, the agency stated.

Read also: Mother, Daughter Convicted in Deadly Pit Bull Attack on 75-Year-Old Emako Mendoza

Sources: (NBC San Diego, UT San Diego)