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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.

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