SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) – A Windsor man was sentenced Friday to three years’ informal probation and 200 hours of community service in Sonoma County Superior Court in connection with the death of a retired thoroughbred racehorse on his property in 2010.

Mark Ross, 49, was charged with felony animal cruelty for allegedly starving the 6-year-old horse to death on his Jensen Lane property. The horse died in December 2010.

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Ross pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor animal cruelty charge Friday morning and was sentenced immediately by Judge Robert LaForge.

Animal rights activists, some of whom attended what was to be the start of Ross’ trial Friday, claimed Ross allowed the horse to starve while feeding another horse next to it.

Ross’ attorney Andy Martinez said the retired racehorse stopped eating for unknown reasons. He said Ross took the advice of a friend who examined the horse a month before it died and recommended Ross feed it alfalfa instead of hay, Martinez said.

Ross’ niece Nicole Ross brought the horse to the property and neglected it, Martinez said.

The niece also was charged with felony animal cruelty. She pleaded no contest and was sentenced in January to three years’ probation, 300 hours of community service and 45 days in county jail with the option of enrolling in a work release program.

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“We had a defensible case all the way,” Martinez said after Friday’s sentencing.

He said his client agreed to plead no contest to the lesser charge because of the cost of an estimated 5- to 7-day trial.

Siobham Duff, of Petaluma, who attended the sentencing on behalf of In Defense of Animals, said the outcome of the case was “horrible and atrocious.”

Duff said Ross should have been convicted of a felony charge.

LaForge also ordered Ross to pay $500 to the Sonoma County Coins to Help Abandoned and Neglected Equines program, which paid for a necropsy on the racehorse.

The judge also ordered Ross not to own or have horses on his property during his probation.

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