By Tiffany Yeh
The preliminary hearing for Samantha Green, the young mother charged with second-degree murder of her 19-day-old baby Justice Rees, resumed this afternoon with two witnesses. The deputy coroner who assessed the manner of death of baby Justice and Yolo County Sheriff’s Sergeant Dean Nyland were the two witnesses who testified today.
Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputy Coroner John Clancy has worked with the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department for four years. He assessed Justice Rees’ manner of death, consulting with other law enforcement officers there, including two crime scene investigators and a DA’s Office investigator.
A big distinction between the job of the deputy coroner and that of a forensic pathologist, Deputy Coroner Clancy explained, is that his job is to assess the manner of death of the deceased. On the other hand, a forensic pathologist assesses the cause of death.
Dep. Coroner Clancy described the five possible categories of “manner of death” that he can report: natural, suicide, homicide, accident, and undetermined. After examining Justice Rees and consulting with others, he came to the conclusion that Justice’s manner of death was “undetermined.”
The defense questioned Clancy about his knowledge of congenital heart disease, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS). It seemed that the defense will possibly argue later that SIDS or SUNDS is a possible factor in Justice’s death, if this case goes to trial.
Defense also asked if Dep. Coroner Clancy had examined deceased who died as a result of environmental conditions such as hyperthermia or hypothermia. In coming to his decision of an “undetermined” manner of death, Clancy examined Justice’s body and looked through Justice’s Kaiser prenatal medical records and the police’s preliminary police records, and had reviewed Samantha Green’s witness statements.
He had access to some of those documents from the case file system at the Sheriff’s Office. After consulting with his supervisor, he came to his evaluation of Justice’s manner of death.
He described trauma and minor abrasions on various areas of Justice’s body. The abrasions were on the back of his neck, base of skull, anterior chest (more so on the right side), and on both arms and both legs.
Justice did not appear to be malnourished and did not seem to be exposed to drugs. The deputy coroner did emphasize that he only examines the exterior of the deceased, whereas the forensic pathologist looks at the inside.
One question that the defense asked led Mr. Clancy to state that one manner of death was not more compelling than another manner of death.
When defense asked the witness if there were signs of gross negligence, Deputy DA Ryan Couzens objected. Judge Rosenberg sustained the motion.
Dep. Coroner Clancy and his supervisor decided to have two entomologists evaluate an estimated time of death for Justice Rees. They came up with noon or early afternoon of February 24, 2015, based on the laying of eggs of blowflies on Justice Rees.
An interesting point that the defense brought up was whether the manner of Justice’s death was similar to that of a child left in a car with the “windows rolled up on a hot summer day.” He replied that “if intent can be ruled out,” the situation was a similar tragic accident.
DDA Couzens tried to paint Samantha Green as a neglectful mother. Samantha Green smoked methamphetamine the day before Justice was born. He brought up prior referrals to Child Protective Services (CPS), her no-shows to infant checkups at Kaiser, and an account of difficulties getting her to feed her child.
However, the defense pointed out that the CPS referrals were when Samantha Green was the complaining party and was a minor being abused herself.
The prosecution asked about the term “homicide” used as a category for manner of death. Clancy described it as death at the hands of another that was not accidental. Also, for a pathologist, environmental exposure involves something like being wet after exposure to water and very cold air – circumstances without protection “in the setting of congenital heart defect” was part of the deputy coroner’s report.
Defense mentioned that the existence of Justice’s congenital heart defects were not known on the birth records and only became known at the time of the autopsy.
The second witness of the afternoon was Yolo County Sheriff Department’s Sergeant Dean Nyland. He was resuming his testimony from the previous day.
On February 25, Sergeant Nyland saw Justice leaning up against a tree. This was near an inlet to a slough near Ridge Cut Slough in Knights Landing. There was dense brush and a group of trees nearby. In one of the pictures shown to Sgt. Nyland, Justice had a red orange life jacket protecting him.
The area was near the shoreline, east of Hwy 113, in a large open area.
He described a couple of small abrasions near the back of Justice’s head. Defense asked Sgt. Nyland if where those abrasions were on the back of the head aligned with where Justice had been propped on the tree. Defense’s argument will likely be that those abrasions on the back of his head were as a result of touching the tree.
Nyland said he touched Justice’s onesie near his upper torso/chest and it was damp. Justice also had a diaper on.
Samantha Green had multiple scratches and abrasions on her arms and injuries on her feet that made it difficult for her to walk. Defense argued that she had been crawling through the dense brush, thus she had scratches.
What had occurred leading up to someone’s discovery of Samantha Green and Justice, at least what was pieced together and seemed to have happened, was that Samantha Green somehow ended up near the slough and she had Justice with her. She walked a bit on land.
Then at one point, around 1:30pm on February 23, she described that she crossed the water at the slough, with Justice on her shoulders – she was trying to keep his head above water. The water is around six or seven feet at the shallowest part of the deep end, and goes to a maximum depth of around nine to ten feet.
The defense argued that Samantha Green let go of her diaper bag, purse, blanket and water because she was afraid she and Justice would sink. The prosecution interpreted that as Samantha Green losing her purse.
Green and Justice made it to the other side and she stopped at the area with the tree. It was dark then. She fell asleep (or passed out, stated the defense) a couple times, with Justice under her coat for warmth, and then she finally woke up.
Sgt. Nyland had conducted six different interviews with Samantha Green. During the first interview, she alleged that she was afraid that a person named “Kerry” was following her, then standing there laughing and saying something she could not hear. During the second interview, she saw somebody or some figure following her.
When Samantha Green woke up, she noticed Justice sitting by her side, leaning against the tree. “I saw his little legs.” He was freezing. Her legs were cramped up, she pulled him to her side, and cried. She left Justice there and told him she would be back.
She stood up, fell down, and then pushed through the brush, walking on to try to find help. She got lost and ended up going in circles. She thought she would die and that no one would find Justice. She crossed the river again and climbed a levee.
She had no shoes anymore, drank river water, and started screaming for help throughout the day, until someone found her, just around 5:00pm.
How did Samantha Green and Justice end up at Ridge Cut Slough in the first place?
Sergeant Nyland said that it was hard interviewing Samantha Green. He would have to repeat his question multiple times. He thought she was under the influence of stimulants – he thought this because her behavior seemed hyperactive, particular in motor movements. Also, she would start crying suddenly and then stop randomly.
At first, Samantha Green was convinced that “Kerry” was the one responsible for the whole situation and Justice’s death. Then, she blamed Frank Rees.
At 2:00 or 3:00am on February 23, the day she went missing, Samantha Green and Frank Rees used methamphetamine. He administered a “butt shot” to her anal cavity, which was approximately 0.25 grams of methamphetamine with some water, administered with a syringe and the needle taken out.
Later, she thought Frank might have put something weird in the shot besides methamphetamine. The way she acted at the slough was unlike the previous times she had used meth. She had used methamphetamine for a couple of years but never had she felt dizzy and the way she felt at the slough. Samantha’s sister had agreed with her, that Samantha had never before reacted as she had on that day.
At one point, during an interview, Sgt. Nyland had asked her if she had been dreaming when she said “Kerry” had been there when she woke up by the tree. She described things as weird.
The defense’s argument seems to center on Samantha Green crawling through the brush. They asked Sgt. Nyland if hair ties that she had made from fabric from part of her pants had been found. They had. In an interview, Samantha Green had said that she had lost her original hair tie in the weeds that had caught onto her hair tie.
Another theory by the defense is that Frank’s ex-wife could have something to do with this. She is described by Sgt. Nyland as having a “mental problem.” She has three kids with Frank. On some occasions, she mentioned having sex with the devil, saying that around their children. During MDI (multidisciplinary interviews) with their kids, one of them described that “Daddy and Samantha cried” when the baby was on the news.
Samantha also mentioned Justice was the “baby of the devil,” and “half devil, half human” in some interview. Frank had told Samantha some odd things, such as that Samantha was a triplet, he was an octuplet, and Justice was a twin but Kaiser had taken Justice’s twin away from them.
In a jail call on March 9, 2015, Samantha sounded resolute. She told Frank that “Kerry” was not the one responsible for this. She stated that she was “on a really bad trip.” This is reference to her mental state after taking the drug. After taking the butt shot, everything was a haze. Justice froze to death. Frank kept on interrupting her. At Ridge Cut Slough, Samantha thought the world was coming to an end.
Sgt. Nyland described that this call, out of the 107 calls he had listened to between Samantha and others, was different. She was insistent with Frank and wanted to get her story out to him.
Sergeant Nyland will resume his testimony and then defense will present two witnesses for their side tomorrow afternoon.