SAN ANTONIO - A married couple arrested after attending a Santeria ceremony involving animal sacrifice say they aren't cruel people or criminals -- they're just believers of a misunderstood religion.
Robert and Irma Talamantez were two of 11 people charged with cruelty to livestock animals after deputies responded to a Santeria ceremony in the 11400 block of Bronze Sand Road Friday evening.
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Robert Talamantez, who is a type of priest called a Babalawo, said the ceremony was for a newer member of the religion and involved animal sacrifices to different saints or gods, known as "Santos" or "Orishas."
Robert Talamantez and his wife both plan to fight the charges in court and say the deputies were not properly informed about Santeria, and as a result, their beliefs are now getting a black eye.
"The African religion of Santeria is being criticized as you know, we're cruel people. We're not cruel people," Robert Talamantez said.
Speaking at the scene Friday night, deputies told media members that neighbors said they saw several people in the garage sacrificing animals with knives.
When deputies arrived, they said they saw dead chickens, goats and other animals in the garage, as well as some animal heads.
The Talamantezes say there were about 30 people at the house for the ceremony, though only two were performing the sacrifices. The group had sacrificed a goat, three roosters, a pigeon and some chickens before deputies arrived, bringing it to a premature halt.
The ceremony was meant to mark the completion of a newer member's "sainthood," a yearlong journey that involves dressing in white, not eating at tables and other restrictions as a form of self-sacrifice.
Robert Talamantez said the animals were sacrificed by cutting the jugular and letting them bleed out. Their blood was used to feed the Santos, which are represented by rocks in containers.
Afterwards, the sacrificed animals are cut up to be cooked and eaten at a ceremonial dinner. Some of that was already underway when deputies arrived, Robert Talamantez said.
Though the animals were killed, Robert Talamantez said there was no cruelty - no beating or mutilation - and argued that slaughterhouses have worse conditions.
"We had animals in cages and inside the bags, but they weren't being abused," Robert Talamantez said.
"You know, the only one that can complain about cruelty to animals is a vegan you know, because we're killing animals. Right? They're the only ones that can complain, because everyone eats cows, and everybody eats hamburgers and fried chicken and pork chops and you name it. And we're no different from anybody else," he said.
Following their arrests, the Talamantezes have no plans to stop practicing Santeria. If there was any mistake, they say, it was that the garage door was left open for the neighborhood to see.
"If you're a nudist, you don't go nuding in your front yard, right? You keep it within your home," Robert Talamantez said.
Since the ceremony was interrupted, Robert Talamatez said it will need to be continued. The only thing different this time?
"I won't have the garage door open."
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