Three years after animal-cruelty charges were brought against Beth Lynne Hoskins, her much-delayed trial moved into the defense phase Tuesday in Aurora Town Court.
Hoskins faces charges tied to a March 18, 2010, raid by the SPCA Serving Erie County at her Aurora farm where the agency seized 73 Morgan horses that allegedly had been living in squalid conditions.
The first defense witness, Dennis Lang, CEO of the Erie County Agricultural Society, which owns the county fairgrounds, testified that SPCA officials contacted him once before the raid.
Under questioning from defense attorney Thomas J. Eoannou, Lang said that then-SPCA Officer Lyndsey Styborski told him sometime in the first week of March that the agency needed stalls to house about 50 horses that would be confiscated.
Lang also testified that he was told it was “a definite seizure” and to keep it confidential. Lang said he met with Styborski and another SPCA official, whom he said he did not know, but ended up later identifying as Beth Shapiro, deputy director of the SPCA.
“I told her I’d house the horses, but they’d have to be out by the end of March because I had an event/horse sale” in the horse barn, Lang said.
From a defense standpoint, Lang’s testimony was crucial because Eoannou was trying to show that the SPCA had a definite plan – not a contingency plan – far in advance of the raid. “I’ve been saying for three years that this was preplanned,” Eoannou said after cross-examination of Lang ended Tuesday afternoon.
The prosecution, however, tried to poke holes in Lang’s ability to accurately recall dates of contact with the SPCA in advance of the raid since it occurred more than three years ago and there was no record of his desk calendar to prove when the SPCA contacted him and when he met with them.
Lang was the only witness called by the defense Tuesday in Hoskins’ nonjury trial before Town Justice Douglas W. Marky on 74 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty.
When the trial resumed Tuesday, Eoannou asked for dismissal of all charges; Marky reserved decision on that point. The prosecution had ended its case Monday afternoon with cross-examination of veterinarian Charlotte Tutu.
An interesting twist that emerged with Lang on the stand was that he openly acknowledged knowing Hoskins since she was about 8 years old and that she was a student of the late Harry Embree, a horse trainer and mentor of Hoskins. Lang said Tuesday court session was the first time he had seen Hoskins in five years.
“Obviously, I knew Ms. Hoskins and it was quite a surprise,” Lang said of when he learned of the planned confiscation.
Lang, a professional horse trainer for most of his life, said he had often seen Hoskins at horse shows over the years. At one point, in the mid-1990s, Lang said, Hoskins brought a few of her horses to his place to have him take care of them while she was between barns.
Under cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Matt Albert, Lang acknowledged he would see Hoskins at horse shows when she was a child, into her teens and 20s. “She was in the horse business,” Lang said.
When questioned further by Albert, Lang said he had a financial relationship with Hoskins for about six months when he took care of a few of her horses. After being pressed by Albert about the timing of the SPCA’s contacting him, Lang said he had no record of the meeting date.
Lang also said he was surprised to hear Hoskins was going to be prosecuted criminally and acknowledged that he wanted to help her. He said Eoannou contacted him about 2½ years after the raid to give a statement to the defense.
At first, Albert did not want to begin cross-examination of Lang, saying that Eoannou had not listed him as one of 20 potential witnesses he might call. The list includes SPCA Executive Director Barbara S. Carr, SPCA attorney Alan Donatelli and agency spokeswoman Gina M. Browning. “[Eoannou] neglected to put Mr. Lang on the list. … to put all the cards on the table,” Albert said.
Eoannou insisted he had put it on the record that he was calling Lang, who was on the witness stand for a little more than an hour, except for a brief recess.
At Marky’s suggestion, Albert said he may recall Lang as a witness for further questions but was not yet certain.
The trial has had its share of adjournments and delays and resumed earlier this month after nearly a 100-day lapse since November.
When the trial will resume is uncertain because of the schedules and availability of witnesses for the defense. But there might not be any action in the trial again until the first week in April.