A state appeals court panel says a Tazewell County judge punished a former Pekin woman too lightly for intentionally letting her two dogs die by starvation and lack of water.

Regina Robards was correctly convicted in September 2015 of two counts of aggravated cruelty to a companion animal, three judges with the Third District Court of Appeals ruled Monday in Robards’ appeal.

They closed their opinion by chastising Judge Paul Gilfillan for sentencing Robards, then 43, only to 12 months of probation “for these heinous crimes,” which were punishable by up to three years in prison or up to 30 months probation, plus a fine.

The judges did not state what sentence within that range they thought Robards should’ve received.

However, “We find that (Gilfillan’s) sentence of 12 months’ probation to be unjustly and inexplicably lenient,” the panel wrote. “If it were up to this court to impose a sentence, (Robards) would likely be facing a harsher penalty.”

Gilfillan noted Robards’ prior “law-abiding life” and her “virtually penniless, virtually homeless” condition in setting her sentence.

The panel, however, questioned Gilfillan for citing that Robards’ “conduct did not cause or threaten serious harm to another person.” Other “human beings” were not intended for consideration in animal cruelty cases, the judges wrote.

Robards’ case drew more than a dozen animal rights activists to each of her court appearances over 10 months, including her bench trial and sentence hearing. They often carried signs outside the County Courthouse calling for Robards to be sent to prison or jail.

Robards’ dogs “died for nothing!” Marsha Soto, one of those observers, said moments after Gilfillan closed the sentence hearing.

The appellate panel rejected Robards’ argument that her prosecutor fell short of showing she intended to kill the dogs that she left unattended in her rented Pekin home in November 2014.

The judges cited an Illinois Supreme Court finding in another case that an individual intends “all the natural and probable consequences flowing from his own deliberate act.”

“The natural consequence of not feeding or providing water to pets is that they will die,” the judges stated.

Robards moved out of her house but told her landlord she was returning every day to care for her dogs, Walker and Sparky. The landlord found one of the dogs’ emaciated remains, and a short time later the other dog was found in a skeletal condition in a plastic bag.