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Five men face felony animal cruelty charges after Santa Barbara County authorities discovered evidence of what they called “ritualistic animal sacrifice.”

The five suspects, all Mexican nationals from 21 to 52 years old, were arrested Tuesday by Santa Barbara County sheriff’s Deputy John McCarthy as he investigated a report of trespassers on a farm three miles east of Santa Maria.

The farm was near Foxen Canyon Road, a winding road well-known for its wineries.

In the men’s car, McCarthy said, he found numerous candles and a live chicken. At a spot where they allegedly had congregated, he found shattered eggs, a bloody plastic bag, twine, a fan-like arrangement fashioned from brush, and, below it, a chicken’s head.


According to the deputy, the items “resonated” with those he knew about from past cases involving animal sacrifice. The purpose of such rituals is either to heal the participants or harm their enemies, he said.

The suspects were in Santa Barbara County Jail on Wednesday as officials tried to determine their immigration status.