Wednesday, July 18 , 2018, 6:14 pm | Mostly Cloudy 71º


Local News

Judge Rules Orcutt Man Must Stand Trial For Toddler’s Death

Preliminary hearing ends for Sean Michael Kothe, who has been charged in connection with alleged abuse and murder of girlfriend's 19-month-old girl

Sean Kothe, 25, of Orcutt, listens to testimony during a preliminary hearing on charges he abused a toddler, leading to her death in 2016. A Santa Maria judge ruled Monday that Kothe will stand trial for the charges. Click to view larger
Sean Kothe, 25, of Orcutt, listens to testimony during a preliminary hearing on charges he abused a toddler, leading to her death in 2016. A Santa Maria judge ruled Monday that Kothe will stand trial for the charges.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

An Orcutt man will stand trial in connection with the abuse and death of his then-girlfriend’s toddler daughter, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Gustavo Lavayen ruled Monday afternoon.

Sean Michael Kothe, 25, was arrested June 26, 2016 after his girlfriend, Jackeline Molina-Rodriguez of Oceano, showed up at Marian Regional Medical Center with her 19-month-old daughter, Delilah Cassio-Molina. The girl died two days later at a Madera children’s hospital.

Kothe was charged with felony murder, assault on a child causing death, and dissuading a witness by force or threat. 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.

“I do find sufficient evidence was presented,” Lavayen said in holding Kothe to answer to all five counts at the end of a two-day preliminary hearing in a Santa Maria courtroom.

Defense attorney Steven Andrade argued the prosecution team failed to link his client to the injuries that caused the girl’s death.

“There’s been no evidence to establish how the injury occurred to Delilah, when the injury occurred to Delilah,” Andrade said.

“We know that it had to be a forceful impact to cause the skull fracture, but we know from the testimony of the autopsy doctor that it can take a while for the severe ramifications from even a severe skull fracture to occur,” Andrade added.

The defense attorney contended a severe injury could take days to show up, suggesting the mother or some friend of Kothe could have harmed the girl.

Andrade called the prosecution's case full of speculation.

On Friday, Dr. Manuel Montez, a forensic pathologist, said the girl had a skull fracture, bleeding and swelling of her brain, and a traumatic brain injury. He labeled the death a homicide due to child abuse.

The catastrophic injuries could not have come from a simple slip and fall, but occurred due to a violent head strike, prosecutors said in court. 

During testimony on Monday, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department detectives testified about statements made by friends regarding how Kothe treated Delilah. 

Kothe cared for the girl while her mother worked, including for several hours on the day before the girl was taken to the hospital, according to testimony. 

One friend told a detective about seeing Kothe pick up the girl by her shirt collar and swing her around to the point of dizziness before pushing her.

A friend also told authorities the defendant reportedly referred to the 19-month-old as “little bitch,” Detective Patrick Genovese testified.

Kothe treated the toddler better when her mom was around, with Delilah otherwise acting like “a scared dog” around the defendant, Genovese said a friend told him.

“She was always watching him, keeping her eyes on him as if to anticipate some sort of action from him,” Genovese testified.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Gresser and Deputy District Attorney Tiffany Dix took turns questioning witnesses.

Another deputy talked about a jailhouse informant’s recorded conversation with Kothe, who allegedly sought to hire someone to ensure a witness, Kyle Lorencz, did not testify against him. 

“And he was willing to have him killed,” Gresser said, referring to law enforcement testimony about a recorded conversation between Kothe and a jail inmate to hire someone to give Lorencz “a hot shot” or lethal dose of heroin.

Lorencz, who bought heroin from Kothe and also used it with him, was at his residence the day the girl was taken to the hospital, authorities said. 

After holding Kothe to answer to the charges, the judge ordered the defendant, who remains in custody, to return to court Aug. 2 for arraignment on the charges.

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.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >