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Judge Denies Change-of-Venue Motion for Case Involving Toddler Death

Sean Michael Kothe, 26, is facing murder and other charges in death of 18-month-old Delilah Cassio-Molina

A request by Sean Michael Kothe, above, to have his murder trial moved out of Santa Barbara County was rejected Wednesday by a Superior Court judge. Click to view larger
A request by Sean Michael Kothe, above, to have his murder trial moved out of Santa Barbara County was rejected Wednesday by a Superior Court judge.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk file photo)

A Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge on Wednesday denied a request by an Orcutt man charged with killing a toddler to move his trial to another county. 

Judge Gustavo Lavayen ruled against the change-of-venue of motion filed by the attorney representing Sean Michael Kothe, 26.

Kothe 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, who is represented by attorney Steven Andrade, has been 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.

Andrade argued that Kothe’s trial should be held elsewhere, alleging media coverage of “slandering” Kothe and harming his right to a fair trial.

“For the reasons stated in the motion, I think it would be very difficult to obtain a fair and impartial trial in this county,” Andrade said. “But we are not adverse to trying if the court deems it appropriate.”

The District Attorney’s Office opposed the change-of-venue motion, calling media reports neutral and not sensational. 

“Rather, most of those press clippings just recount what happened in court,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Gresser said.

She noted the defense motion did not spell out factors supporting a change of venue.

The judge said the fact the victim was a young child would be a factor no matter where the case is tried.

“So I don’t think that factor requires a change of venue,” the judge said. 

The nature and gravity of the offense potentially could support a change of venue, the judge said, but added that factor alone is not sufficient for moving the trial.

Lavayen also noted the case had received extensive media coverage.

“I think it has been primarily, if not entirely, accurate,” he said.

However, Lavayen left open the possibility for reconsideration during jury selection, saying he denied the motion “at this time.”

Kothe, who remains in custody of the Santa Barbara County Jail, was ordered to return to court Dec. 13.

The trial has been scheduled to start Jan. 16. 

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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