A request for a change of venue in the trial of an Orcutt man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend's daughter in 2016 was denied Wednesday, despite the argument that media coverage will taint a potential jury pool and the defense will not get a fair trial.
Last month, attorney Steven Andrade filed a motion seeking a change of venue for defendant Sean Michael Kothe, who is scheduled to be tried for the murder of Jackeline-Molina Rodriguez's child, Delilah Cossio Molina, in January. The toddler was about 18 months old at the time of the alleged crime.
Andrade argued that it would be difficult to obtain a fair and impartial jury in Santa Barbara County, and that it was possible potential jurors would have already formulated opinions on the case due to news reports, allegations and testimony that reportedly smeared his client.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Gresser maintained that none of the news media clips were sensationalized, expressed any opinions about the case and that no comments were ever made by the prosecution.
"Most of that information has been neutral and factual, and none of the reports ever indicated the defendant is guilty; rather, most just refer what happens in court with regards to continuances and such," Gresser argued.
She also pointed out that there was media coverage regarding Delilah's mother in the case, such as her arrest and the conflicting statements she gave to officials, disputing the idea that "it's all focused solely on the defendant."
Furthermore, Kothe isn't a well-known public entity in the area and the county "isn't an overly small community," Gresser said.
Judge Gustavo Lavayen agreed the defense failed to convince the court as to why it should be granted a change of venue.
The judge also agreed that the media coverage was not extensive and was all "primarily, if not, entirely factual."
After denying the motion, Kothe was re-arraigned on the information that came out of the preliminary hearing in July. He pleaded not guilty and denied all special allegations on the amended information.
In addition, Kothe also entered a not guilty plea on the felony count of dissuading a witness by force or threat.
Kothe was arrested at his home in Orcutt after the child's mother went to Marian Regional Medical Center and gave conflicting statements to law enforcement. The child was airlifted to a children's hospital in Madera, and was pronounced dead a few days later.
Rodriguez was later arrested for child endangerment but later released due to insufficient grounds for making a case against her, authorities said.
Charges of murder, willful cruelty to a child, assault on a child causing death and dissuading a witness by force or threat were filed against Kothe in June 2016 by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office.