The trial set to begin Jan. 16 for an Orcutt man facing murder charges in connection to the death of his ex-girlfriend's daughter was postponed Wednesday, after a defense attorney argued the Thomas fire had forced him to evacuate, which adversely impacted his ability to work.
Sean Michael Kothe, 26, faces a slew of felony and misdemeanor charges, which include murder, dissuading a witness, willful cruelty to a child, in addition to a special enhancement of having a prior criminal conviction.
Delilah Cossio Molina was only 18 months old when she died June 28, 2016, after being airlifted to Valley Children's Hospital in Madera from Marian Regional Medical Center. The child sustained severe head trauma, and was presumably brain-dead even before she was transported to the hospital.
Steven Andrade, who represents Kothe, had requested a trial continuance last month, explaining that he was one of the many residents whose homes were under mandatory evacuation due to the Thomas fire, which sparked in the Santa Paula area Dec. 4.
The blaze eventually made its way toward south Santa Barbara County, activating many mandatory and voluntary evacuations in the areas of Summerland, Montecito and east of Highway 154 and near the San Marcos Pass.
On Wednesday, as court officials prepared to pick trial dates for this month, Andrade objected, explaining that he was still homeless and that "the fire, as the court knows, came very close to my house and it's dangerous for anyone to live there right now."
The Thomas fire displaced Andrade and his family, who noted that he had to relocate multiple times since their evacuation. He added that the evacuation had adversely impacted his ability to work on all his cases and, furthermore, could result in an impending financial battle with a disaster recovery restoration company over property repair.
Additionally, Andrade mentioned that he was only able to recover about half of his trial prep materials, which he left in his Montecito home before he had to evacuate.
"It'll be up to four to six weeks before the house is livable," said Andrade, who suggested coming back next month to set new trial dates.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Gresser countered the request, indicating that the alleged victim's family wanted the trial to go forward as soon as possible.
After hearing both sides, the judge ordered all parties to return Jan. 31 to pick a new trial date. The judge also noted that he anticipates setting Kothe's trial dates sooner rather than later, in case the department's other murder case does not go forward Jan. 29.