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Justice takes a whipping in Hoskins case

It seems she has a judicial partner in a distorted view of reality. In a ruling Thursday that could kindly be called generous, Aurora Town Justice Douglas Marky sentenced Hoskins – of the wealthy Curtis Screw manufacturing family – to three years’ probation, a $52,000 fine and counseling for animal cruelty. The same judge, in a more lucid moment, found the East Aurora woman guilty in July of mistreatment of 52 Morgan horses on her East Aurora farm. Prosecutors called the discovery of numerous starving horses standing thigh-deep in manure the worst case of animal cruelty in modern Erie County history.

Anyone who assumed that the level of abuse would result in a jail sentence looked Thursday like a horse’s posterior.

There will, astoundingly, be no orange Holding Center jumpsuit for the woman who consistently dazzled courtroom spectators the past three-plus years with various designer outfits and baubles.

Marky rejected not just prosecutors’ push for a maximum two-year sentence, but a recent Probation Department report that recommended jail time. Probation officials said Hoskins’ demeanor was “remarkable for a complete lack of remorse ... She continues to believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that she has provided adequate care for her animals.”

Marky acknowledged that he follows Probation Department recommendations 95 percent of the time. The other 5 percent of the time, he makes a mistake. Marky even punted the question of Hoskins’ continued horse ownership, and the $700,000 the SPCA says she owes it for care of her seized horses, to the judge in her ongoing civil trial.

As defense attorney Tom Eoannou – a recipient of some of the estimated $1 million the case has cost Hoskins – crowed after the sentence, “Beth can go out and buy 100 horses tomorrow.”

Now there’s a comforting thought.

Marky struck me as the sort of hyper-cautious, overly officious guy who takes five minutes to tie his shoes. The judge was complicit in allowing a multiple-count but clear animal-cruelty case to drag on for three-plus years, extended by his routine approval of numerous Hoskins-requested delays. Given Marky’s overly deferential behavior, the light sentence was perhaps predictable.

Still, I am not sure why the judge handed Hoskins a Stay Out of Jail card. Even her tearful presentencing statement was hard to swallow. She lamented the recent death of a horse in SPCA custody that she hadn’t chosen to keep and visited just twice in three years. She refused to acknowledge even the fact of her conviction – referring to the sad state of her seized horses as “not a crime, but a shame.” Sorry, but there are 52 animal-cruelty counts that argue otherwise.

This is not a matter of demanding a pound of flesh, equine or otherwise. It’s worth noting that Hoskins didn’t shove sticks into her horses’ eyes, set any of them on fire or purposely cause them pain. Animal hoarding – the original charge involved 74 horses, as well as 52 cats confined to a 10-by-12-foot shed – is a symptom of deep emotional problems. There’s a sad, pathetic cloud hanging over this case.

But the number of animals neglected, the prolonged lack of care and her absence of remorse should add up to more than a slap with the judicial reins. Even a brief jail sentence would have underlined the horror of animal abuse, and perhaps opened her eyes to the concept of accountability. Among this soap opera’s sidelights is a lawsuit Hoskins filed, alleging a “conspiracy” among those against her, including the SPCA, prosecutors, ex-husband, veterinarians, witnesses. I’m not sure how she missed the corner hot dog vendor.

The last thing this woman – or her horses – needed was another enabler. Especially one wearing a black robe.