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Monday, March 25 , 2019, 11:39 pm | Fair 52º


Orcutt Man Sentenced for Toddler’s Death in Emotional Hearing

Family of 18-month-old girl gives victim-impact statements before judge sends Sean Kothe to state prison for 25 years

Sean Kothe sits in court in Santa Maria Wednesday with his attorney, Steven Andrade Click to view larger
Sean Kothe sits in court in Santa Maria Wednesday with his attorney, Steven Andrade, during his sentencing for killing the toddler daughter of his former girlfriend. He was sentenced to 25 years in state prison for the death of 19-month-old Delilah Cassio-Molina. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)
Delilah Cassio-Molina Click to view larger
Delilah Cassio-Molina, who was known for her sparkling eyes and an infectious smile, was 19 months old when she was killed by Sean Kothe in 2016. (Contributed photo)

An Orcutt man was sentenced to 25 years in state prison on Wednesday for abusing and killing the toddler daughter of his former girlfriend in 2016.

The sentence was handed down in a Santa Maria courtroom after emotional family members shared the depth of their loss, noting that they will never again hug or hear Delilah Cassio-Molina.

As a framed photo sat on display nearby, showing the 18-month-old girl with sparkling eyes and an infectious smile, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Gustavo Lavayen ordered Sean Kothe, 27, to spend 25 years in state prison.

“Losing Delilah has impacted everyone in my family in so many ways,” the toddler's aunt, Claudia Cossio, said in a victim-impact statement. “Nothing is the same without her. Even the smallest things remind me of the cruel reality — we can’t touch her, hug her or hear her voice.”

The charges against Kothe, who was represented by Santa Barbara attorney Steven Andrade, date back to June 26, 2016, when his then-girlfriend, Jackeline Molina-Rodriguez of Oceano, showed up at Marian Regional Medical Center with her injured daughter, 19-month-old Delilah.

The girl was tranferred to a Madera children’s hospital, where she died two days later.

During Kothe's preliminary hearing, Dr. Manuel Montez, a forensic pathologist, testified that Delilah died due to a non-accidental traumatic brain injury, and had a skull fracture likened to a shattered egg shell.

Last month, as jury selection was underway, Kothe accepted a plea deal and pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter along with three felony counts of child abuse, a count of dissuading a witness, and a count of attempting to escape from custody. He originally had been charged with murder.

Kothe, who was not the child's father, was caring for Delilah while her mother worked, but instead emotionally tortured her for several weeks before ultimately killing her.

“The defendant’s actions are despicable and his lack of insight and remorse since this precious 18-month-old was killed are unconscionable,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Gresser told Noozhawk after the hearing.

In the weeks leading up to Delilah’s death, the defendant videotaped himself hitting her with a cell phone to make her cry, and sent the video through social media to his ‘friends,’ believing it was funny, Gresser said. He also called the girl vile names and claimed he was physically rough with her.

“This defendant deserves every day he will receive in prison, if not more, under this sentence to hopefully begin to think of the precious he life he took, and the impact it will have on the victim’s family, rather than thinking solely of himself for once,” Gresser said.

After the court hearing, Andrade said the trauma that led to Delilah's death was accidental.

"The goal of the defense team was to avoid a murder conviction and a life sentence, which Mr. Kothe did not deserve. These goals were accomplished today," Andrade said. "Mr. Kothe plans to use his time in custody to make positive changes in his life, and will take advantage of educational programs available to him to earn significant reductions in his sentence.

"He will still be a young man when he is released from custody," Andrade added.

The toddler’s mother, grandmother and aunt delivered victim-impact statements before a video of the young girl played on the courtroom’s screen. As pictures of the girl's short life were displayed and while the song “Hey there Delilah” played, the young girl's father sobbed.

Molina-Rodriguez struggled to speak about her loss as her voice filled with emotion.

“She was my world. … I can’t accept what happened,” Molina-Rodriguez said. 

Delilah, noted for her big eyes and beautiful smile, would have been 4 years old Wednesday and likely readying for school, her aunt said.

Cossio also spoke about the sadness she sees in the eyes of her brother — Delilah’s dad — and his pain of his loss on holidays.

"The only thing that makes me feel better today is that you will not be able to hurt another child again," she said. "You will not be able to break another family apart. You will not be able to cause any pain to another father again," 

Speaking through a court interpreter, Delilah’s grandmother, Leticia Graciliano, said she wanted to tell Kothe "he took away our little angel from us.”

“But he will never take away her love,” she added. “Never.”

The family also thanked Gresser and Deputy District Attorney Tiffany Dix, along with Santa Barbara County sheriff’s Detective Wayne Flick, for their work on the case.

“I promise you that, if you would have met her, she would have stolen your heart,” Cossio said. 

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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