July 18, 2006 — - Prosecutors making a case against a San Francisco woman accused of child endangerment after her 12-year-old son was mauled to death last summer by the family's pit bulls described scenes of "unbelievable horror" and presented Maureen Faibish, 40, as "criminally negligent," but her defense attorney argued that she was "a good person and a good mother."
Faibish's son, Nicholas, was killed June 3, 2005, after his mother left him at home alone with the two pit bulls, Rex and Ella, while she went with her daughter on a school picnic. Ella was in heat, prompting Rex to behave in a more aggressive manner, according to both the prosecution and the defense.
Faibish instructed her son, who was diagnosed with receptive and expressive speech impairments and had refused to attend school that day, to stay in the basement, where she had left snacks and a television. She told police she had given him a shovel to prop the door closed and keep the pit bulls away.
When Faibish returned almost three hours later, she found her son dead in an upstairs bedroom, and her efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.
Because the boy died, she faces a felony child endangerment charges with a special enhancement, and if convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison.
"His mother left him home alone with those dogs -- it cost him his life," Assistant District Attorney Linda Moore said. Moore went on to portray Faibish as fully aware that her son had a learning disability that made it unlikely he would obey her instructions to stay in the basement.
Rex, the male pit bull, had already bitten Nicholas on the chest and arm just hours before Faibish left the house, Moore said.
The basement toilet was filthy and blocked, and the only way to reach a working toilet was to walk past the room where the dogs were kept, police said. They also said that the basement contained a refrigerator containing moldy food and a broken telephone.
The defense countered, arguing that concentrating on one particular day failed to show Faibish as a loving mother who was "doing the best she could" to deal with the stress of looking after three children while preparing to move to Oregon where her husband had just taken a new job.
"You can't just take one page [of a family's history] and say, 'I would have done something different'," defense attorney Lidia Stiglich said. "Maureen Faibish on that day or any day would never have done anything to endanger her kids.''
It is not known whether Faibish will take the stand, and the defense indicated in pretrial hearings that she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, but prosecutors will relay much of what she told authorities immediately after the attack.
"The boy's mother looked me in the eye and asked if her son was still breathing," Janice Hoaglin, a firefighter who was at the scene, told the court on Monday. "I told her, 'No, ma'am. Your son is dead.' She said, 'It was all my fault. I should not have gone to the picnic.' She knew the dogs were trouble."
In a landmark case in California legal history, Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel of San Francisco were convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2002 and sentenced to four years in prison after their two Presa Canario dogs killed a 33-year-old neighbor in an unprovoked attack.
A jury had earlier convicted Knoller of second-degree murder in the mauling, but the judge in the case threw out that conviction.
In the aftermath of Nicholas' death, and after pressure from San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, the city passed an ordinance requiring that all pit bulls in the city be spayed or neutered.
"Neutering and spaying decreases the level of hormones in a dog's body and consequently reduces aggressiveness," Dr. Yves Galea, a Los Angeles veterinarian, told ABC News. "However, it is not enough by itself and they also need training."