on July 8, 2013 - 4:43 PM
Beth Lynne Hoskins’ 74-count animal cruelty trial resulted in her conviction on 52 counts of animal cruelty for mistreatment of her high-end Morgan horses.
But the judge’s verdict issued Monday is not stopping her in her fight, and already she is strategizing her appeal. It’s a case that has rung up at least $2 million total, between both dueling sides, the SPCA Serving Erie County and Hoskins, for both horse care and legal bills.
The more than three-year saga – which began with the March 18, 2010, raid by the SPCA at Hoskins’ 50-acre Aurora horse farm – culminated Monday in an overflowing Aurora Town Court room. About 60 people waited to hear Town Justice Douglas W. Marky’s verdict, with some lining the courtroom almost up to the judge’s bench and others standing in the hallway.
Marky ticked off a two-page list containing four columns of horses’ names – announcing in his verdict the names of each of the horses for counts in which he found Hoskins guilty of animal cruelty as well as the counts for which he did not.
In all, Hoskins was found guilty of 52 misdemeanor counts under the state Agriculture & Markets Law, while she was not guilty of 22 counts.
Monday was the pivotal moment in Hoskins’ nonjury criminal trial before Marky that began just before Memorial Day 2012.
Hoskins sat composed at the defense table, dressed in a khaki-colored linen blouse and bright yellow skirt, with her trademark jangling bracelets. Notably absent was her daughter, Alex, who usually accompanied Hoskins to court.
Hoskins’ wealthy family, which owns the Buffalo-based Curtis Screw machining company, did not attend the court proceedings. Hoskins later said it would have been too hard on the family.
In rendering his verdict, Marky did not distinguish what factored into his decision. And neither Assistant District Attorney Michael Drmacich, nor Hoskins’ primary defense attorney, Thomas J. Eoannou, said they knew, either.
But Marky noted that the 22,000 documents filed in the case represented its complexity and breadth. “It’s a bigger stack of papers than I am tall. That’s a huge undertaking,” Marky said before issuing the verdict at about 4:30 p.m. “Although this was one case, it was really 74 trials, all of them intertwined.”
Marky set sentencing for 4:15 p.m. Sept. 26.
A major unknown, however, is what will happen to the 39 horses that Hoskins has had at her farm since a State Supreme Court justice overseeing civil cases involving the situation returned them to her the summer following the raid. One had since died.
The SPCA, meanwhile, is caring for 30 of her horses at foster farms. Attorneys in the case Monday said it was uncertain just when a hearing would be held in which a judge can determine what happens to the horses.
The case has captured national attention in horse and animal abuse circles.
Hoskins vehemently denies any wrongdoing and insists she properly cared for her large herd, and that conditions found in March 2010 at her farm were the norm for a horse farm coming out of winter.
Hoskins and Eoannou have contended she is the victim of overzealous animal rights crusaders trying to rewrite the rules on how animals are treated.
But the Erie County District Attorney’s Office has steadfastly insisted otherwise, presenting a case detailing depths of manure in the horses’ stalls and maintaining that many were underfed and appeared dehydrated. Some witnesses noted hoof distortions, infections and absent farrier care, as well as dry water buckets and holes in some of the stalls. They testified to significant weight gain in some of the horses once they were under SPCA care.
After the verdict was announced and court was dismissed, Hoskins leaned over to Eoannou and gently held his head, before whispering in his right ear. A short time later, after the courtroom had cleared, she said in an interview that she would definitely be appealing to the Erie County Court Appellate Term.
“I’m very grateful that we’ve been able to launch our defense. This is just the first step in a long process,” Hoskins said, intimating that the playout of the case is indicative of animal rights activists and what she said were undercurrents that were not always obvious.
“We’re not done, yet. This was one person and one person’s opinion,” she said of Marky’s verdict. “We’ve pursued justice where we could, and will continue to do this. I certainly haven’t benefitted from this taking so long. The process takes a long time.”
Hoskins said she had not had any expectations of what the verdict would be. She is known for her litigious nature, and also has sued the SPCA and others for $2 billion in damages, charging that she was set up.
Another attorney she has retained, John P. Bartolomei, said motions are pending in State Supreme Court on the return of her 30 other horses. Hoskins also is looking to have that court order the return of $350,000 that she has paid the SPCA for the agency to care for her animals.
Eoannou termed this verdict as “round one.”
On the split verdict, he said he knows every horse and he did not see the distinction as to why some were apparently mistreated and others were not. “I respect it, but I don’t know how he got it,” he said of the judge’s decision.
SPCA Executive Director Barbara Carr afterward said she was confident in the agency’s work on the Hoskins case, which has proved to be the costliest and longest.
“We don’t go into a case without doing our homework and without knowing what we’re doing. I’m not at all surprised we got to this point. Certainly, the proof was there,” Carr said, thanking the District Attorney’s Office for all the work that went into the case. “It was huge and we’re very glad that it’s now completed.”
The SPCA has spent “around” $1 million caring for the horses, she said. Hoskins, in contrast, estimated she has spent $750,000 on legal fees and $350,000 in horse care costs to the agency.
What happens to the horses next is a huge source of interest in the community. “That’s entirely up to the courts what happens with the horses. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of discussion about that,” Carr said, indicating that the routine inspections at Hoskins’ farm would likely continue for now.
Asked about Hoskins’ claim that the SPCA was overreaching in its accusations, Carr said: “It was all in the evidence as to whether or not this was so.”
Drmacich thanked the SPCA, vets, volunteers, investigators, “because without their help, this could never have been possible, without their hard work and dedication. I think this is a victory for the SPCA and for all those people, and the animals.”
Reached late Monday night, Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said he was pleased with the verdict. “We expected convictions and felt the case was well supported by the evidence,” he said. “Drmacich did a great job.”
Some in the horse community were thrilled with the conviction news. “Over the long years that this has gone on, I have spoken with vets and volunteers who helped with the raid. It sure sounds like those horses needed to be removed,” said Barb Cunningham, president of the western chapter of the New York State Horse Council. “We can’t believe they found her guilty, because we figured she would pull something else out of her hat, but we have certainly felt she was guilty.”
“I don’t believe she should ever have been given any horses back. What she has done to the SPCA economically, is horrendous,” Cunningham said. “The woman never should be allowed to have animals. I hope she is sentenced quickly and doesn’t win an appeal, and is forced to pay the SPCA for all the money they are putting out.”
Also in court Monday, Marky again denied a motion to toss the case out. Last week, he had reserved decision on a renewed motion by Hoskins to have the case dismissed because of allegations of prosecutorial misconduct by Matthew Albert, an assistant district attorney in the case, who had a romantic relationship with SPCA investigator Alex Cooke. The judge again cited cases presented by Bartolomei, but did not find merit that the situation in any way jeopardized or prejudiced the case.
Both Albert and Cooke attended Monday’s proceedings. Beforehand, Albert stood outside the court on the sidewalk with a handful of pro-horse people holding signs encouraging drivers to honk for the horses.
After the verdict was announced, Cooke and Albert were seen in a tight embrace on Paine Street, celebrating Hoskins’ conviction on 52 counts.
Hoskins on Monday still insisted the prosecutorial misconduct issue had merit. “It seemed very compelling to me and the others I’ve been working with. It seemed obvious there was a multi-layered conflict in the relationship, that it appeared inappropriate at the very least,” Hoskins said.