The Tampa Tribune, Aug. 18, 2002
By JENNIFER BARRS
T[A – Their naked bodies covered in the blood of a dead goat – and the yard around them strewn with dismembered heads of chickens, pigeons and doves – four men and a teenager were charged with animal cruelty early Saturday morning in West Tampa.
Arrested at a home at 8914 N. Willow Ave. were Milton Rodriguez, 30, of Tampa; Julio Aleman- Alonso, 45, of Tampa; Janos Mandilego, 32, of Hialeah; and Maximo Teixidor, 23, of Miami.
They remained in Hillsborough County Jail on Saturday, each charged with three counts of animal cruelty, a third-degree felony. A $3,000 bail was set for each.
A 17-year-old police identified as Alfredo Teixidor also was arrested.
A neighbor alerted police to the scene about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, after noting a commotion coming from the home nearby. Based on comments made by several of the suspects, Tampa police spokeswoman Katie Hughes said officers believe the men were practicing religious rituals commonly associated with Santeria.
Santeria is an amalgamation of Roman Catholic and west African beliefs practiced in Cuba and other Caribbean islands. Its roots go back 4,000 years to an African religion that was brought by slaves to Cuba from Yoruba, now Nigeria.
Miami has an estimated 70,000 Santeria followers, with the New York area close behind. The Tampa area also is thought to have a large concentration, with about 20,000 believers.
The religion recognizes one supreme being and several lower-ranking deities, called orishas, who can be appealed to for protection or favors through offerings of blood drawn from chickens, goats, ducks and turtles.
If there is one aspect of Santeria that has concerned nonbelievers, it is the sacrifice of animals, usually fowl and goats. But whether these acts are legal religious rituals or illegal acts of animal cruelty is mired in confusion.
In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized animal sacrifice as a religious sacrament and decided that it was protected by the Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom. Yet in 1996, a Santeria priest in Miami was found guilty of one count of animal cruelty after a sacrifice.
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