Beth Lynne Hoskins has been spared jail and her Morgan horses – 52 of which she was convicted of abusing – will not be forfeited and auctioned off.
Aurora Town Justice Douglas W. Marky on Thursday sentenced the wealthy horsewoman to three years of probation, including 500 hours of community service, and fined her $52,410 on the misdemeanor animal cruelty charges.
The sentence fell far short of what the Erie County District Attorney’s Office had been seeking – two years in jail and the loss of her horses.
While Hoskins will be allowed to keep her horses, she must have one worker for every 15 horses. The judge also stipulated that she must live in Erie County and cannot leave Western New York without permission.
The judge’s probation sentence, containing 14 stipulations in all, also insists she obey all orders of the State Supreme Court justice presiding over the civil case that has stretched for more than three years and is continuing between Hoskins and the SPCA Serving Erie County.
Hoskins’ attorney, Thomas J. Eoannou, was ecstatic with the outcome.
“We came in here asking for no jail and no forfeiture of horses, and that’s what we got,” he said after the sentencing, also noting the Hoskins now could go out and buy more horses.
Hoskins’ mother, Susan Hoskins, seemed relieved afterward, noting that her daughter had just gotten in over her head with her horses. “What happened is probably one of the best things that could have happened, because she’s learned a great deal through this and some hard lessons. It’s upset Mommy and Daddy. She’s grown a whole lot and I’m proud of her.”
Officials from the SPCA, which raided Hoskins’ farm three years ago and seized 73 horses, were disappointed in the sentencing.
“The only thing I’m concerned about is this case has put us in a position of using our funds to take care of Ms. Hoskins’ horses,” said Barbara Carr, SPCA executive director. “She’s visited her horses [cared for by the SPCA] twice in three years and owes us $1.3 million ... I was really hopeful we’d leave here and we’d know the fate of these horses.”
Details of Marky’s sentence came about an hour after prosecutor Michael Drmacich and Eoannou argued passionately in their sentencing recommendations to the judge in a courtroom that overflowed into the hallway with onlookers well before court proceedings even began.
Drmacich insisted Hoskins, 46, belonged behind bars for the maximum two years that was allowed by law, based on the number of convictions, the nature of the crimes and that she has “shown absolutely no remorse for committing these crimes.”
“She stands before the court as the most prolific animal abuser in modern history in Erie County,” Drmacich said. “I personally, in 26 years as a prosecutor, have not seen a defendant convicted of 52 crimes who has not seen jail.”
He detailed the squalor he said the horses were living in, their malnourished condition and the lack of adequate veterinary and ferrier care.
By contrast, Hoskins’ attorney lobbied for her to have community service, saying she and her family had suffered enough and noting she should be able to get back to the business of being a mother to her 9-year-old daughter, Alexandria Joy, and taking care of horses. He also noted her clean record, saying she hasn’t even had a parking ticket.
“Beth doesn’t belong in jail,” Eoannou said, adding that she doesn’t have “a malicious bone in her body to harm a horse.”
Eoannou also noted that animals have been a big part of Hoskins’ life since childhood and that she’s more than capable of running a beautiful farm. He also went out of his way to emphasize dynamics of her life with her daughter, whom she home schools.
“She’s the sole caretaker of Alex and a domestic violence survivor,” Eoannou said. “She’s a beautiful kid. And it’s a real testament to Beth.”
It was Hoskins’ very love of horses that ended up leading her into the trouble in which she found herself, he said.
“Because of Beth’s love for horses, she took in too many horses and couldn’t secure enough care,” Eoannou said. “That farm went from impeccable to leaving a lot to be desired.”
Hoskins, dressed in a taupe-colored sweater and skirt, listened intently in court and looked at Drmacich as he criticized her. She didn’t flinch throughout nearly two hours in court, sitting calmly with her reading glasses on. Friends and her parents, John and Susan Hoskins, and brother John Jr., sat directly behind her in the courtroom.
But before Marky announced his decision – which was far more lenient than what District Attorney Frank A. Sedita and the Erie Count Probation Department wanted – Hoskins made her own plea to the judge for 10 minutes, which included holding up a handwritten note from her daughter to Marky, pleading for her mother not to go to jail and for their lives to return to normal.
As she read her statement, she broke down in tears at times.
“Please do not send me to jail. Please do not forfeit any horses. Allow us to rebuild our lives and try to move forward,” Hoskins begged Marky. “We have lost our privacy and joy in the last four years that we will never get back,” she said through tears.
“Much has been made about my lack of remorse ... Nothing could be further” from the truth, Hoskins said, noting it’s been the opposite and she daily deals with regret, sorrow and abject fear. “I did not perform animal cruelty acts. I did not like the conditions at the farm, but they were not a crime. For that, I take responsibility and am sorry.”
Hoskins acknowledged the conditions at her farm “were less than ideal.” “My horses are so precious to me, as most people treasure their children,” she said. “There is nothing or no one more important to me in this world than my daughter, Alexandria.”
Hoskins said she just obtained a temporary order of protection this week through another judge for herself and her daughter. “It has been an unending nightmare I never would have dreamed of,” she said. She read her daughter’s note to Marky out loud in court, saying she wrote that she loves her mother and how they love their animals and want them back.
The Erie County Probation Department’s pre-sentencing investigation report suggested jail time. Hoskins could have faced a maximum of two years in jail, fines, probation, a conditional discharge or combination of some of those options.
Marky said he typically follows a probation department recommendation, but noted that prior inspections at her farm in the years preceding the SPCA’s March 18, 2010 raid were favorable, despite a series of complaints. In explaining his sentencing decision, he noted Hoskins has no criminal record. “I do believe the defendant loves her animals,” he said.
Marky was direct with Hoskins. “Nobody made you take all those horses in,” he said. “Testimony at the trial indicated that all was fine until something happened.”
Marky said he intentionally did not sentence Hoskins to jail “at this time.” But he also said he needs to be assured that the horses are properly cared for, regardless of how many she owns.