BAKERSFIELD, Calif., (KBAK/KBFX) — A Kern County jury found Tobin Phillips guilty of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of torture of 8-month-old Baron Smith on Friday.
According to court documents, in November of 2016, Phillips was being charged with felony child abuse for assaulting a three-week-old girl in Whitman County, Washington. Two weeks later, Phillips fled the state and moved to Tehachapi with his girlfriend and her two children.
On January 2, 2017, Phillips was watching 8-month-old Baron while his mother went to work. According to court documents, during that time, “Phillips violently shook Baron, slammed Baron’s head into a piece of furniture, severely twisted Baron’s left nipple and ultimately, strangled Baron to death.”
Phillips ran from the home but ultimately turned himself in.
Phillips faces a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for the special circumstances, first-degree murder of Baron Smith.
“First-Degree murder with special circumstances carries the highest penalty recognized under the law, and the fact that this case involved the most innocent of all victims is a reminder of why that is the case. Kern County should take pride that its prosecutors’ dedication to the pursuit of justice despite these uncertain times is second to none,” said District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer in a news release.
He is due back in court on September 18, 2020.
Tobin Phillips was watching the boy Monday night while the mother was at work. He’s not the boy’s father.
Neighbors tell Eyewitness News they heard the distraught mother when she got back home.
“I heard blood-curdling screams,” Joy Lagle said. She lives in the apartment right below the mother’s unit.
“We heard her running up and down the stairs, saying, ‘Help me, help me, he killed my baby,'” Lagle described.
She said seconds later they saw the mother fall to her knees in the parking lot.
The Kern County Sheriff’s Office said deputies were called out at about 11:30 to help the Tehachapi Police Department with the homicide investigation at the apartment on Cherry Lane.
“The baby boy did display obvious signs of trauma,” KCSO spokesman Ray Pruitt told Eyewitness News on Tuesday morning. “We believe that the injuries that the little boy sustained led to his death, and that Tobin Phillips is responsible for the injuries that led to the boy’s death.”
Pruitt said Phillips had already left the apartment when the mother returned. But, Phillips was found a couple hours later at the Fastrip gas station in Tehachapi.
Neighbors said when Phillips took off, he also left another small child in the apartment.
“The little girl is, like about 10 months older,” Lagel said. That would make the little girl about 18 months old, they think.
The neighbor said she saw the mother briefly on Thanksgiving night, and that was the first time she met the boyfriend, Phillips.
“He was creepy,” Lagel said. “He was really creepy, he had a really creepy smile and stare.”
She said her family heard Phillips at times yelling at the little children.
It’s not clear when the baby was killed, or how long Phillips was gone from the apartment before the mother got home.
Phillips was arrested on suspicion of murder and willful cruelty to a child causing death.