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Preliminary Hearing Starts for Orcutt Man Charged With Toddler’s Death

Forensic pathologist details severe trauma to 19-month-old girl's body

Sean Michael Kothe listens to testimony Friday in his preliminary hearing on charges he murdered his girlfriend’s 19-month-old daughter in Orcutt last year. Click to view larger
Sean Michael Kothe listens to testimony Friday in his preliminary hearing on charges he murdered his girlfriend’s 19-month-old daughter in Orcutt last year. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A toddler died of a non-accidental traumatic brain injury and had a skull fracture likened to a shattered egg shell, a forensic pathologist testified Friday in the preliminary hearing for an Orcutt man charged with killing the 19-month-old last year.

Sean Michael Kothe, 25, was arrested after his girlfriend, Jackeline Molina-Rodriguez of Oceano, showed up at Marian Regional Medical Center with her 19-month-old daughter, Delilah Cassio-Molina, on June 26, 2016.

Dr. Manuel Montez, the first witness in the Santa Barbara County Superior Court preliminary hearing Friday, spoke about his post-mortem review, saying the child had extensive trauma to her head along with evidence of a recent brain surgery from life-saving measures.

"Then I noticed a very severe, very significant spider pattern fracturing of the skull,” said Montez, a forensic pathologist for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department. “Basically it was like an egg shell or spider web consistency with multiple fingers extending off the largest fracture, which was 11 centimeters, which went all the way to the base of the skull." 

By the time the toddler arrived at the hospital, Montez said, the child was “essentially dead," Montez said under questioning from Cynthia Gresser, chief deputy district attorney.

A CT scan, or fancy X-ray, confirmed the severity of the injuries — skull fracture, severe traumatic brain injury, large pocket of blood pooling in her head, Montez said. 

The girl was transported to Valley Children’s Healthcare in Madera where doctors confirmed she was brain-dead and halted life-saving measures two days later.

He determined the child’s death stemmed from “abusive head trauma due to child abuse,” Montez said.

Montez said he considered the possibility she fell, but added gravity and her weight make it unlikely a fall would cause the injuries.

“In my opinion, and I agree with the health care professionals at both hospitals, the degree and severity of the injuries is so excessive and so catastrophic that it does not make it possible that these are accidental,” he said. “So by definition, it becomes a homicide.”

Kothe is charged with 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.

In addition to Montez, other witnesses who testified Friday were two sheriff’s detectives, plus a friend and heroin customer of Kothe. 

Detective Matt Fenske said the toddler’s mom initially said the girl slipped and fell in the shower, reportedly not mentioning Kothe, who was on parole and using drugs.

“She never complained that her boyfriend, Sean Kothe ever abuse Delilah, true?” defense attorney Steven Andrade asked about the mother’s statements in her initial interviews with police.

Fenske confirmed the boyfriend, who cared for the girl while the mom worked, was not mentioned.

The mother told deputies the girl was fine the night before taking Delilah to the hospital, the detective added.

In a later interview, the mother claimed her daughter had bruises after being in Kothe’s care.

The mother was arrested, but was not charged in connection with the girl’s death.

While Delilah and her mom were at the hospital, Kothe and Kyle Lorencz, a friend and regular drug customer, went to an Orcutt shopping center where the defendant bought syringes. 

They later went to a friends’ house where Kothe shot up heroin while Lorencz smoked it, the witness said.

Near the end of the day Friday, Detective Michael Emens testified about friends who recalled Kothe speaking negatively about the toddler, who acted scared of the defendant. 

The defendant allegedly told a friend about swinging the toddler around so much “she was messed up at least a whole day as far as her equilibrium,” Emens said. 

Testimony will resume at 8:30 a.m. Monday before Judge Gustavo Lavayen, who must decide at the end of the hearing if enough evidence exists for Kothe to stand trial.

The preliminary hearing started two hours late after the defense attorney sought a postponement, claiming he was missing evidence from the prosecution team although receipts showed some was delivered.

Noting he set the hearing date two months ago and had set aside the day on his compacted calendar, the judge denied the motion. 

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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