It has been just nine days since police investigators found 20-day-old Justice Rees near Rough Cut Slough by Knights Landing, following a call from his mother Samantha Green.
On March 4, she was arraigned on the charge of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. On Monday, the defense calendered a court hearing with the request to change her plea from not guilty, to a plea to the sheet.
The next day, the District Attorney’s office filed a motion to amend the complaint and change the main charge from involuntary manslaughter to murder.
Two days later, the defense led by Public Defender Tracie Olson and Deputy Public Defender David Muller, filed an objection to the amended complaint.
Judge Rosenberg, on Friday morning, asked Deputy DA Robert Gorman what changed.
Mr. Gorman spent some time citing case law that he argued gave the prosecutors broad discretion in their ability to change the charges.
He claimed that this was a relatively new case, and detectives were working around the clock to investigate the matter. In light of new evidence, Mr. Gorman argued that they believe the circumstances now warrant a murder charge and that the proper time to dispute the charges would be during the preliminary hearing.
The public defender’s office countered that the timing of the amended complaint seemed suspicious and raises the prospect of vindictive prosecution.
David Muller argued that the change in the charge has not been explained by new evidence and Tracie Olson added that they were requesting a full evidentiary hearing.
Mr. Gorman, however, countered that something had been in the works and, while he agree that the timing could lead to the belief it was changed in response to the change in plea, he asserted that this was not the case.
Mr. Gorman added that they are not required to turn over evidence at this time. However, he believes that the evidence will be sufficient to support a murder charge. That evidence will be presented at a preliminary hearing, the proper time for the defense to dispute the sufficiency of the evidence.
Mr. Muller argued that Ms. Green has a procedural right to plea to the sheet. He said that there has been no evidence produced at this point of an intent to kill.
He reiterated that the timing gives the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Mr. Gorman pointed out that they were talking about a very short timeline of nine days.
Judge Rosenberg pointed out that they were actually talking six days from March 4 to March 10 when the DA’s office filed the notice of the amended complaint.
Mr. Gorman reiterated that there detectives working overtime investigating this case, and that the defendant is not entitled to a hearing other than the preliminary hearing. Moreover, the prosecution never offered the defendant to be able to plea to the sheet. And it was three days after the arraignment that the plea to the sheet form was offered.
Tracie Olson countered that six days made it more suspicious, not less. She argued that if this were a lengthy investigation it would be more reasonable to have found new information that would support more severe charges.
Judge Rosenberg ruled that requests to amend are both submitted and allowed at all times during a court proceeding. He noted that there have been times when new charges are actually added during the trial if new information comes to light.
He said that the motion to amend was made on March 10, six days after the arraignment. He ruled that the mere fact that the defendant submitted a request for a change of plea does not raise the specter of vindictive prosecution without additional evidence.
Furthermore, he noted that there is no reason to necessarily believe that the change of plea would be to a plea to the sheet rather than NGBI (not guilty by reason of insanity).
He therefore allowed the district attorney to amend the complaint to a charge of murder. He noted that, due to the new charge of murder, bail which had been set at $250,000 was changed to no bail.
Ms. Green, under the previous charges, had faced a maximum of six years in prison, and more likely four years. Now she faces a potential life sentence.
The next hearing will be Monday, March 30, 2015.
—David M. Greenwald reporting