Prosecutors seek death penalty in murder of 8-month-old


A man accused of killing a Tehachapi baby now faces the possibility of going to death row, if convicted. 

It’s rare we see homicide cases in Kern prosecuted as death penalty cases, and even more rare we see it happen with baby deaths. The announcement reflects the severity of the allegations against Tobin Phillips.

21-year-old Tobin Phillips is nearly unrecognizable from when he first was charged with murder last January.

Now, he is facing the possibility of being sent to death row, something we almost never see as it relates to baby homicides.

Last January, Phillips’ girlfriend went to work, leaving the then 20 year old to watch her two children. Phillips and the children’s mother were childhood friends and she trusted him. But when she got from work, she found her 8 month old son, Baron Smith, was dead. Phillips left the baby’s body alone in the apartment with the boy’s 2 year old sister. Family called Baron, little bear.

To add to the horror of the situation, investigators say the baby was severely abused before he died.  What makes this case significant is baby homicides are almost always charged as 2nd degree murder, because the crime usually happens suddenly-in the midst of frustration. But that’s not the allegation here.

In California, to have a capital case there has to be a special circumstance in addition to the murder. In this case, the special circumstance is torture.

Compounding the shock for investigators: at the time of baby Baron’s death, Tobin Phillips was supposed to be in Washington state waiting to stand trial for allegedly badly abusing his own 21-day old daughter he had with another woman. Phillips then girlfriend says she knew nothing about that child abuse case prior to the death of her baby. 

There are eerie similarities between the Tehachapi and Washington cases. Both incidents occurred when the babies mothers went to work, and both situations seemed to arise after Phillips couldn’t get the babies to stop crying.

The last defendant to be sent to death row in Kern County was Michael Charles Brown in 2016. There are 26 Kern inmates currently on death row.

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