A Peyton man who let a dozen horses starve — two of them until they died in knee-deep manure — avoided jail Tuesday.

Prosecutors instead brokered a plea deal allowing Brian Holloway, 53, to serve two years on supervised probation. He is banned from owning animals for five years, must perform 100 hours of community service, and is to complete therapy required by probation evaluators, including at least 12 therapy sessions.

“The tragedy of this is beyond reckoning,” 4th Judicial District Judge David A. Gilbert told Holloway, blaming him for the destruction of a “magnificent animal.”

“It is sad. It is egregious. It is shameful,” the judge said. “And I don’t know that you feel shame.”

But the judge accepted the plea deal at the District Attorney’s Office’s urging, citing prosecutor Kelson Castain’s assessment that “proof problems” could have made it difficult to obtain a conviction on a felony at trial.

Under terms of the deal, Holloway — the owner of a property for sale at $1.5 million — pleaded guilty to aggravated animal cruelty, a felony. In exchange, authorities agreed to dismiss a second felony and 10 misdemeanors alleging animal cruelty.

The hearing revealed the tangled history behind what one animal advocate called Holloway’s “million-dollar barn” — a vast arena and stables he recently built after receiving a gift of $3 million from a former employer and friend in her 80s.

The woman died after giving him the money, and Wells Fargo filed a lawsuit seeking return of the money to her estate, alleging fraud, according to statements in court.

Holloway showed up to an early hearing without attorneys, and he agreed to Wells Fargo’s proposal that he be left with $30,000 from the woman’s gift to manage his property, care for his animals and provide for himself and his elderly mother, who lives with him.

All other assets were frozen as the case against him was pending, and within a month of hiring attorneys, Holloway’s bank account fell to 63 cents.

“The civil case basically ruined him financially,” said Holloway’s defense attorney Patterson Weaver. He said Holloway’s financial straits were aggravated by “embarrassment” and “pride” that led him to refuse offers of help.

The 10 animals rescued from Holloway’s property in March were taken to the Dumb Friends League Harmony Equine Center in Franktown for care. Some were made available for adoption; two later died, according to a July story in The Gazette. No further updates on the animal’s conditions were provided in court.

Holloway, speaking in court, apologized and acknowledged he should have given the horses to the Humane Society when it grew clear he couldn’t care for them, even though his attorneys warned it could be construed as contempt of court.

“I didn’t want people to know how bad it was.”

Holloway had intended to create an event center and community gathering place for horse enthusiasts, and for a while he succeeded, hosting rodeos, training space for neighbors and, at one point, a benefit for a sick child.

“It’s a lovely idea, and in part I think it was about you,” said Gilbert, who chastised the defendant for naivete in thinking he could accept millions from an elderly woman without facing questions, and for “self-aggrandizement” in spending it on a “big, showy horse palace” he couldn’t afford to manage.

Before the bank lawsuit, Holloway threw parties for staff members at Big R Store, a ranch and farm supply retailer where he bought his wares, in what the judge called a display of ego.

As money grew thin, Holloway’s horses survived by grazing on his land, but that was no longer an option as winter set in, Weaver said. The judge in the civil case, David A. Prince, had barred Holloway from selling property or the horses, in what Judge Gilbert called a standard order in a civil action over disputed assets.

“You can’t blame the entire situation on the fact that courts do what courts do,” Gilbert said.

No one has shown interest in buying Holloway’s property in the 3200 block of Slocum Road, Weaver said.

Megan Miller, a horse rescue worker who assists the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, and who was present when authorities seized the animals, dismissed Holloway’s explanations, saying he could have sought hay and other help from neighbors and any number of nonprofits.

“He chose the worst possible fate for these horses,” she said, reading from a prepared statement.

Mucking stalls is free, she added, detailing the dangers of leaving animals to live in their excrement.

“His embarrassment is not an excuse for letting an animal die,” she later said.

After the sentencing, Miller said she was “incredibly disappointed” by the lack of jail or prison time, and blamed “buck-passing” among various agencies and institutions for poor outcomes in animal-abuse cases.

Castain said aggravated animal cruelty applies when someone “knowingly tortures, needlessly mutilates, or needlessly kills” an animal, in what he called a high bar to clear.

A criminal trial could have dwelled on Holloway’s financial constraints, and his efforts to work small jobs to buy hay, albeit in insufficient quantities. Without a conviction on a felony charge, penalties against Holloway could have been lighter, Castain said.

The judge imposed the maximum ban on Holloway owning animals.

Gilbert granted the defense’s request to allow Holloway’s mother to keep her two pet dogs, after questioning the defendant about his level of contact with them.

Holloway said he sees them sparingly.

“They don’t like me,” he told the judge.

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