MIAMI - Protesters crowded the steps of the Miami-Dade Courthouse on Tuesday to show their anger over a string of horse killings.
The group of animal lovers planned the event on the same day as a scheduled court hearing for two men arrested and accused of slaughtering at least two horses last year.
Santiago Cabrera, 20, and Luis Cordero, 19, both of Hialeah, were arrested in September 2009 and have remained behind bars ever since.
Investigators believe the men were paid between $500 and $900 to carry out the killings of two horses as part of an effort to salvage the remains for horse meat.
On the black market, horse meat can cost up to $40 a pound.
It is illegal to kill a horse for its meat in the United States.
Nearly two dozen horses were found slain and butchered in South Florida last year.
Protesters, some of whom owned the slain horses, gathered outside the courthouse Tuesday, holding signs and calling for harsh punishment for horse killers.
"I'm just pleading that someday I will find justice for myself and my horse and my family," said Ivonne Rodriguez, whose horse Geronimo was slaughtered. "They're just not livestock. They're a pet."
In the pretrial hearing Tuesday, a judge extended a deadline for Cabrera and Cordero to accept a plea deal being offered by prosecutors. The courtroom was packed with those hoping to get a glimpse of the suspects, but they did not appear.
The terms of the deal involve the men pleading guilty in exchange for 5 years in a state prison. Under the deal, the men would also be charged as youthful offenders.
Cabrera and Cordero are expected in court again in mid-October.
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