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October 3, 2023

Accused child molester found dead

James Kohut committed suicide in jail, sheriff says

SANTA CRUZ — The former Santa Cruz neurosurgeon who allegedly molested numerous children in crimes caught on videotape was found dead Sunday morning. The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s office believes he committed suicide.

James Kohut, 59, was in custody since May 2017 in lieu of $7.5 million bail. He was facing more than two-dozen felony sex crimes against four children.

Deputies found him unresponsive in his cell at Santa Cruz County Main Jail when breakfast service began at 5:45 a.m. He was being held by himself in protective custody, Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Ashley Keehn said. 

The coroner has not officially released the cause of death, but tentatively said Kohut killed himself.

Kohut, along with co-defendants Rashel Brandon, 45, and Emily Stephens, 32, were facing charges that they abused Stephens’ children, a 3-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl, and Brandon’s son, 9.

The case against the three came to light when Brandon’s husband contacted the Watsonville Police Department, saying he found a video that depicted Brandon and Stephens sexually abusing three children, one of which was the couple’s son.

The videos also show Kohut, Stephens and Brandon encouraging the children to perform sex acts on each other, prosecutors say.

Tony Nuñez
Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor of The Pajaronian for five years and three years as Managing Editor. He is a Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus.

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