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Hoskins' nonjury trial in horse farm case set for May 21

Two years after Aurora horse farm owner Beth Lynne Hoskins was accused by the SPCA Serving Erie County of animal cruelty in the care of her Morgan horses, a trial date has been set for the criminal portion of the case.

The nonjury criminal trial on 74 misdemeanor counts against Hoskins is tentatively set to begin May 21 in Aurora Town Court before Justice Douglas W. Marky. The charges, which fall under the state Agriculture and Markets Law, stem from a March 2010 raid by the SPCA at her farm.

Hoskins' attorney, Thomas J. Eoannou, confirmed the trial date and said the defense is ready.

"We've been looking forward to this day and are anxious to try this case," he said when contacted Sunday.

Hoskins, however, will be in court before the trial date -- as she fights to have the charges dismissed when motions are heard by the same court May 2.

"We've brought a motion before the court to dismiss this case in the interest of justice," Eoannou said, declining to elaborate.

In an extensive interview last month with The Buffalo News, Eoannou said the case will determine exactly what limits the SPCA has under an 1851 New York State animal cruelty statute.

"This case, if it does nothing else, will clarify how far the SPCA can go," he said.

When asked whether there could be a delay in the case depending on the outcome of the May 2 hearing on the defense motion, Eoannou said that will not happen.

"The May 2 hearing will not affect the trial date," he said, noting that has been discussed with the judge.

Hoskins, 44, originally had been facing 125 counts of animal cruelty, 74 of them tied to the care of horses at her Emery Road farm. But Marky in March 2011 dismissed 51 of the charges involving dozens of cats that had been seized from the farm.

Last summer, Hoskins rejected a plea offer from the Erie County District Attorney's Office. The plea would have resulted in two Class A misdemeanor counts against Hoskins for two of her horses and possibly up to two years in jail, with the prosecution agreeing to an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal on the remaining 72 horse-related counts, pending a probationary period set by the court.

Eoannou later said that the plea offer was not the one originally discussed and that Hoskins has all along maintained her innocence in the case.

"She rejected it because the SPCA wanted to keep all the bond money -- for even the 72 counts that would have been dismissed," Eoannou said in a recent interview, disclosing that point publicly for the first time.

Hoskins has been caring for 40 of her horses that were returned to her in July 2010 by State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Glownia in the civil portion of the case.

The remaining horses have been under the foster care of the SPCA, although Hoskins has maintained that some have suffered injuries while under the agency's care at various foster farms. In January, a necropsy showed that her 21-year-old Morgan mare named Whispering Arielle died of a broken neck Jan. 3 while in the SPCA's care.

As of last month, the SPCA said it had spent $850,793 on Hoskins' animals; the agency said Hoskins has paid $202,310 into a bond toward their care.