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Mother acquitted in child’s dog-mauling death


A jury voted not to convict a Mesilla Park woman whose son was mauled to death by foster dogs in 2021.

Danika Jackson, 35, was found not guilty by a jury on one count of abandonment of a child resulting in death on March 13. The acquittal is the second verdict in three cases stemming from the death of 6-year-old Avery Jackson-Dunphy.

While at his grandparents’ house in Mesilla Park, Jackson-Dunphy was mauled to death by a group of dogs his grandparents were fostering, according to Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office reports. The incident occurred on Nov. 22, 2021. The dogs were euthanized days after the mauling occurred.

The district attorney charged Jackson-Dunphy’s mother and grandparents after the incident while criticizing the sheriff for DASO’s handling of the case. After the jury delivered a not guilty verdict on Jackson’s case, DA Gerald Byers said he respected the verdict but felt the jury missed the mark.

“When a child is left in a hot car in the summertime, it’s not able to care for themselves, and they perish because of the adult’s misconduct. I want these words to carry to everyone in the community that it is our joint responsibility to ensure the safety, security and longevity of children entrusted to our care,” Byers said in a news conference after the verdict. “That’s the essence of what that case was about.”

Jackson’s attorney declined to comment on the case when the Las Cruces Bulletin reached out on March 15.

After the verdict, courthouse deputies escorted supporters of Jackson and Jackson-Dunphy’s father, Patrick Dunphy, out of the courthouse. Local media reported that supporters of Dunphy and supporters of Jackson hurled expletives at each other as deputies separated them.

During the news conference, Dunphy criticized the presiding judge, Douglas Driggers. He said Driggers restricted too much evidence, preventing the jury from accessing the complete picture.

“Whether she was guilty or not today by this slim evidence the jury had to look at doesn’t matter,” Dunphy said. “He’s not coming back, Avery is gone. He only lives in our memories, our hearts. There is no justice when a child is lost.”

Driggers limited some expert testimony and the testimony of Dunphy, according to court records.

Driggers also presided over the trial of Jackson-Dunphy’s grandmother, Leslie Owens. Midway through that trial in December 2023, Driggers delivered a directed verdict of not guilty. A directed verdict is a tool that a trial judge can employ when they believe that prosecutors failed to prove a crime occurred before the jury has a chance to weigh in.

The final trial of the saga will be that of Jackson-Dunphy’s grandfather, Kevin Owens. He’s set to face a jury on April 15. Owens faces charges of reckless abuse of a child resulting in death, one of the sternest crimes in New Mexico law.  

There’s also a civil case in which Dunphy is suing his son’s maternal family and the Animal Services Center of Mesilla Valley, alleging they played a part in contributing to his son’s wrongful death.

Danika Jackson, mauled son, acquitted