The March 2010 raid on Beth Lynne Hoskins’ East Aurora horse farm was the biggest in 40 years by the SPCA Serving Erie County.
And the subsequent legal proceedings, already the most expensive, may also be the longest in its history, even if Aurora Town Justice Douglas W. Marky is finally able to issue a ruling in the misdemeanor animal cruelty case Monday.
In addition to being one of the longest, the Hoskins case has been one of the strangest in Erie County.
Since the raid that removed 73 horses, more than 50 cats and a handful of dogs from the 50-acre farm, all the dogs and 40 of the horses have been returned to Hoskins. Three horses have died in SPCA care and the rest are still in SPCA custody. Hoskins, still arguing for the return of the rest of the horses, did relinquish most of the cats to the SPCA.
Also in that time, one legal team has been fired by the defendant, one assistant district attorney was fired by the prosecutor, and one judge withstood an effort to have him recuse himself when it was realized his son-in-law worked for Curtis Screw, a company owned by the defendant’s wealthy parents.
While the case sputtered through procedural delays, personnel changes and issues of illness and evidence, the SPCA’s costs just for the animals’ care were piling up like the manure it said it found filling Hoskins’ barns, reaching well over $1 million.
This is not what anyone expected three years ago, when 15 SPCA employees, escorted by police and carrying a search warrant, arrived at Hoskins’ property amid allegations that dozens of Morgan horses, prized for shows and their even temperament, were being kept in filthy conditions and suffering from neglect.
Hoskins, who ran the farm as a breeding operation, was described as “very cooperative” at the time of the raid, but it is unlikely any of her opponents have used those words since.
Two months after the raid, Hoskins was entering a not-guilty plea to 10 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, and telling reporters outside the courtroom, “Besides God and my daughter, those horses are my life.”
But back at the farm, East Aurora police had contacted Child Protective Services because of the condition of Hoskins’ own house. She and her daughter were not allowed to live there until it was cleaned.
While the SPCA was seeking money from Hoskins to pay for the care of her animals, photos from the raid showing horses caked with manure and standing in mucky stalls were released to the news media.
Four months into the case, State Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Glownia futilely urged the SPCA and Hoskins to settle their differences, but it was not to be.
Hoskins called the release of the pictures an attempt by the SPCA to vilify her; the SPCA contended the photos were proof Hoskins was unfit to care for the animals.
The judge split the difference and allowed Hoskins to take possession of 40 of her horses, with the SPCA overseeing her care of them. The SPCA complied, but with “grave concern.”
In mid-July 2010, the Erie County District Attorney’s Office joined the fight, filing 114 animal cruelty charges against Hoskins in addition to the 10 counts she already faced. As District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said, with no small measure of understatement, “It’s becoming increasingly clear there won’t be an amicable resolution to the case.”
Then the gloves came off. SPCA representatives started describing Hoskins’ farm as “a hoarding situation.”
Hoskins responded by claiming that the animals in SPCA foster care were being abused.
More than two dozen protesters marched outside old County Hall before one of Hoskins’ civil court appearances.
It would be two years before her case ever went to trial.
In the interim, the SPCA would attempt, unsuccessfully, to get back the horses retuned to Hoskins. A Springville veterinarian who euthanized a Hoskins horse four months before the raid came forward and another count of cruelty was added to the list.
Hoskins fired her defense team and hired another, led by Thomas J. Eoannou.
The SPCA launched a fundraising campaign amid fears the case would become the costliest in the agency’s 140-year history. And it has.
By December, Hoskins was ordered to pay less than half of the $30,828 that the SPCA requested for monthly care of the horses.
“We’re getting less per horse per day than it would cost to put a dog in doggy day care,” a spokesperson lamented.
In March 2011, one year after the raid, Marky dismissed 51 of the animal cruelty charges.
Meanwhile, Alex Cooke, who had been the SPCA’s primary investigator at Hoskins’ farm, complained that when SPCA workers videotaped conditions at the farm, Hoskins was videotaping the inspectors.
The photo taking didn’t stop there.
Hoskins later hired a private investigator to take photos of Cooke, as she was arriving at and leaving the home of Assistant District Attorney Matthew A. Albert, with whom she developed a romantic relationship during the case. The judge rejected Hoskins’ request for a mistrial earlier this year, but is reconsidering the matter today.
A few months after Marky dismissed some of the charges, Hoskins turned down a plea offer that included being convicted on two of the Class A misdemeanor cruelty counts.
Instead, Eoannou challenged the statements made by an SPCA employee that led to the original search warrant and subsequent raid. Again, the defense asked that the case be dismissed.
At the time, Barbara Carr, executive director of the SPCA Serving Erie County, accused the defense of trying to drag the case out so the agency would give up.
“Well, guess what? We won’t,” Carr said. And they haven’t.
Opening statements were made at last in May 2012 by Assistant District Attorney Michael Drmacich and Eoannou.
Over the next few months, observers in the courtroom became accustomed to seeing Hoskins’ daughter, then 7, sitting next to her mother at the defense table, sometimes playing on a laptop computer, and noting Hoskins’ wide array of wardrobe changes and sometimes noisy accessorizing. At one point, at the request of the assistant DA, JMarky instructed Hoskins to “cut down on the jangling” of her jewelry.
Much of the testimony early on was about manure: in the stalls, piled by the doors, and caked on the horses – “like little bricks the Venetians used to make,” one witness said. A farrier talked about the horses’ hooves, which had grown out for lack of trimming, something that can encourage disease and cause lameness.
Then it all stopped for two months.
Testimony resumed in November, but not for long.
With holiday interruptions and medical issues affecting Hoskins – of which prosecutors were skeptical – trial officially resumed in March, three years after the raid.
With the criminal trial still underway, Hoskins has filed a civil lawsuit seeking more than $2 billion from the SPCA and 18 individuals.
Closing arguments were in early June, with the judge promising a decision shortly.
But it didn’t come soon enough to stop one more twist in the case: Assistant DA Matthew Albert was fired June 28 after Hoskins’ brought forward evidence he and SPCA worker Cooke were still involved, something Albert says is not true.
By Monday afternoon, those who have been following the case may find out if it’s the final twist.