Details emerge at sentencing about accused Modesto mom

rahumada@modbee.comNovember 15, 2012 

— A judge on Thursday sentenced a teenage Modesto mother to six years in state prison for trying to place rat poison in her month-old baby’s formula bottle.

Cashel Sophia Phin, 18, pleaded no contest last month to one count of soliciting murder. She initially was charged with attempted murder, two counts of soliciting murder and one count of willful poisoning, but most of those charges were dismissed as part of the plea deal with prosecutors.

A defense attorney representing Phin said in court Thursday morning that his client suffered mental health issues after she was sexually assaulted by the child’s father.

The prosecutor in the case said she would have sought a lengthier prison sentence, but family members who initially reported the crime have since recanted their story.

Two of the defendant’s sisters attended the sentencing. They declined to comment.

The infant, Anna, was healthy and safe when her mother was arrested. Phin’s sisters and defense attorney Donnell Snipes said the child is in foster care.

Phin was arrested May 9 after she told a fellow Modesto High School student that she wanted to kill her daughter by throwing her into a trash can, Modesto police has said.

Investigators went to Phin’s house, where they were told that Phin had swung her purse at the infant and tried to persuade her sister to kill the child by feeding her rat poison, police said.

Investigators, however, did not find any evidence of the attempted poisoning at the home. Deputy District Attorney Beth O’Hara Owen said after Thursday’s hearing she couldn’t speculate whether evidence was destroyed or removed from the home.

“And even though it’s only six years, we had to take the plea (deal) in light of the evidence we didn’t have,” Owen told Superior Court Judge Linda McFadden.

The prosecutor said in court the main concern was ensuring the child’s safety.

In May, Jen Chhun, the defendant’s 22-year-old sister, told The Bee she didn’t believe Phin would have harmed her baby. She said Phin was troubled, saying things out of anger.

Chhun also told The Bee that she and her father spotted a blue substance floating in a bottle of formula. They didn’t know what it was and threw out the formula. They didn’t know how the substance got into the formula and used a different bottle to feed the baby.

Snipes told the judge that Phin had been raped by the baby’s father and suffered some type of mental health disorder as a result of the alleged sexual assault. He said Phin, at one point, tried to commit suicide by cutting her wrists.

“Everytime she saw the baby, she saw the person who raped her,” Snipes said in court.

A court-appointed interpreter assisted Phin and translated what was said. She didn’t say anything during the hearing, which lasted about 15 minutes.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or (209) 578-2394.

Video from courtroom below

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