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It has taken more than 3 ½ years, a period pockmarked by interminable delays and staggering costs, and what it produced was this: A wealthy woman, described by prosecutors as “the most prolific animal abuser in modern history in Erie County,” has to pay a fine she can easily afford as punishment for maltreating dozens of horses on her farm in East Aurora.

And she can keep her horses.

Aurora Town Justice Douglas W. Marky last week refused to sentence Beth Lynn Hoskins to any jail time, overruling the wishes of prosecutors and the recommendation of the county probation department. Instead, he placed her on three years’ probation and fined her $52,410. She must also perform 500 hours of community service and comply with 14 stipulations.

That’s justice? That balances the scales for malnourishing 52 horses, leaving them to stand in their own manure and denying them the care of veterinarians and farriers?

Not remotely.

Hoskins may not have been intentionally cruel, as her lawyer insisted. She may simply have been overwhelmed. But she had to know matters were beyond her control long before the SPCA Serving Erie County seized her 73 horses in 2010. She could have sought help. That was no impossible task.

It’s why Marky could easily have sentenced her to the maximum two years in jail allowed by the law, as prosecutors requested. It wouldn’t have been unjust. As prosecutor Michael Drmacich pointedly observed, “I personally, in 26 years as a prosecutor, have not seen a defendant convicted of 52 crimes who has not seen jail.”

But, frankly, even a short stretch in jail would have served the needs of justice by getting the attention of Hoskins and other animal owners. Even no time could have been made acceptable if only Marky had made the sentence serious in any other way.

As a member of a wealthy Western New York family, the fine means far less than it would to most county residents who had mistreated at least 52 horses. And most, we suspect, would have kissed their horse-owning days goodbye after being convicted of so shocking an offense, not just against the law, but against decency and common sense. It doesn’t matter that she professes to love the horses. If parents who love their children lose them when they can’t provide for them, why are horses allowed to suffer?

This has been a terrible episode, starting with Hoskins’ abuse of these animals. That led to the interminable delays in the case and to the $1.3 million paid by the SPCA to care for Hoskins’ horses and to the joke sentence imposed by Marky.

The matter isn’t over. A civil case between Hoskins and the SPCA is also dragging on. In delivering his sentence, Marky ordered Hoskins to comply with all directives of the judge overseeing that case. Here’s hoping that judge issues directives commensurate with the crime of abusing 52 horses.