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Attorney for Orcutt Man Accused of Killing Toddler Seeks Trial Venue Change

Sean Michael Kothe Click to view larger
Sean Michael Kothe

The attorney for an Orcutt man accused of killing his girlfriend’s toddler has filed a motion seeking a change of venue for the trial.

Defense attorney Steven Andrade filed the change of venue motion, contending it would be impossible for Sean Michael Kothe to receive a fair trial in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

Kothe, 25, was arrested in June 2016 after his girlfriend, Jackeline Molina-Rodriguez of Oceano, showed up at Marian Regional Medical Center with her 18-month-old daughter, Delilah Cassio-Molina.

The girl died two days later at a Madera children’s hospital.

Kothe was charged with felony murder and assault on a child causing death,. He also faces two misdemeanor counts of cruelty to a child in his care or custody, stemming from incidents occurring on or about May 5, 2016, and June 23, 2016.

After a preliminary hearing in July, Judge Gustavo Lavayen ruled enough evidence exists for Kothe to stand trial on the charges.

This week, Andrade filed the motion seeking to have the proceedings moved to a different county, accusing media coverage of “slandering” Kothe and harming his right to a fair trial.

“A large number of potential jurors in Santa Barbara County have been exposed to information about the case and have formed beliefs about Mr. Kothe’s alleged guilt and his part in the alleged crime,” Andrade said.

News stories have described the case involving the death of Delilah as tragic, heart wrenching and senseless, he said. Comments have expressed prejudice against Kothe, the defense attorney added.

“Delilah has become the sympathetic face of the prosecution,” Andrade wrote. “In comparison, Mr. Kothe has been vilified and disparaged in the media.”

Andrade complained that news stories, referring to witnesses who testified in the preliminary hearing, characterized Kothe as a drug dealer, drug addict and serial abuser.

“They also used direct quotes of witness testimony that may or may not be allowed into the trial, and used testimony and statements about the 18-month-old designed to tug on the heartstrings of their readers, including descriptions about the baby that should not be admissible at trial,” Andrade said. 

The defense attorney included  samples of stories from local print and broadcast outlets to support his motion.

“Given the nature of the above coverage, it would be difficult for any juror to give Mr. Kothe the presumption of innocence required,” Andrade said. 

The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office has not yet filed a response, but is expected to oppose the request to move the trial to a different county.

Defense attorneys in more high profile cases in Santa Maria have sought a change in venue to no avail in recent years.

The judge Wednesday set a Nov. 1 hearing to consider the change of venue motion. 

The case is set for trial Jan. 16, 2018, with attorneys to return Jan. 10 to confirm they are ready to start.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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