Judge David Rosenberg on Thursday held Samantha Green to answer on second degree murder charges following four days of preliminary hearing.
It has been nearly nine months since the death of 19-day-old Justice Rees, who was found in a slough near Knights Landing in Yolo County. We finally know the People’s theory of murder in this case – implied malice.
While there were multiple factors in his death, Kelly Arthur-Kenny, a forensic pathologist with the Forensic Medical Group, said that exposure to the elements and dehydration, combined with two congenital heart defects, led to the death of Baby Justice.
She would testify that the two congenital heart defects alone would not have resulted in his death, however, they made him more susceptible to the cold conditions to which he was exposed.
Deputy DA Ryan Couzens argued on Thursday that a parent has a duty to protect their helpless and innocent baby. The people, he said had no burden to prove malice.
Mr. Couzens, relying on various case law, argued that malice is implied when the killing resulted from an intentional act, the natural consequences of which are dangerous to human life. The act was deliberately performed with knowledge of the danger to, and with conscious disregard for, human life.
He cited the 1977 case, People v. Burden, in which the defendant was found guilty of murder in the second degree because of the death of his son, approximately five months old, caused by malnutrition and dehydration.
According to the People’s theory, Ms. Green, high on methamphetamine, had become increasingly frustrated with her significant other, Frank Rees. Their relationship was in trouble. Mr. Rees had sought to have a threesome with a third woman. Ms. Green declined. Mr. Rees was going to pick up this woman and drive her somewhere, over Ms. Green’s objections.
Ms. Green took off and became increasingly frustrated that Mr. Rees did not come out to find her. She would tell investigators, “He left me out there with his son.”
While the defense had attempted to argue that Ms. Green, covered in scrapes and cuts, protected Baby Justice to the best of her ability, the prosecution argued that the temperatures in the low to mid 30s in February, were “freezing cold.” She had a jacket on, but Baby Justice only had a wet onesie, with his arms and legs exposed.
She intentionally, Mr. Couzens argued, persisted in staying out there despite the baby’s cries – which he called the baby’s attempt to communicate cold and discomfort. She could have chosen to seek help, he argued, but chose not to.
Eventually, she left the baby behind to die in the slough.
Mr. Couzens called this a “callous indifference” to human life. When “the chips were down,” he argued, it was about Frank Rees and meth.
Not only did she leave her baby in the elements, but she was not cooperative with law enforcement’s efforts to find him. Mr. Couzens argued that Officer Pelle had to convince her to help find her child.
The defendant had produced increasingly fantastical stories, such as that of being sexually assaulted by a man – when the police quickly determined the man could not have been there. Then it was secret government agencies, the Illuminati, that were out to get her.
Mr. Couzens argued that this was crazy, but not a real delusion as there was no consistency in the story.
Mr. Rees had characterized Green as totally normal, when he was on meth, to Sgt. Nyland. Mr. Couzens put together testimony to argue Green was perfectly capable of conducting herself normally while on meth. Sgt. Nyland testified that Mr. Rees showed no signs of intoxication, even when he was sure Rees was under the influence.
Mr. Couzens argued that, under an implied malice theory, Green had a duty to care for Baby Justice. He said that her emotions got the best of her and she made bad decisions because of them.
She should not have taken him out there, he argued. She should not have kept him out there and she certainly should not have left him out there. Mr. Couzens concluded, “Baby Justice died because of it.”
Deputy Public Defender David Muller preceded Mr. Couzens in arguments, as the prosecution had deferred. Mr. Muller was largely operating in the dark, as he pointed out that “the People haven’t provided their theory of how this murder occurred.”
In a gut-wrenching argument, Mr. Muller showed the judge the horrifying photos of the dead baby lying in the thicket of the slough. The images triggered emotional outcries from family members, several of whom were overcome and forced to leave the courtroom.
In painstaking detail, Mr. Muller would show that the lifeless body of Baby Justice had no signs of scrapes and scratches. He contrasted that with Samantha Green’s photos that showed her absolutely covered in them.
He argued that this is evidence that Ms. Green, as ill-advised as her actions were, did her best to protect the baby from the environment.
He argued that there was no intent to kill. He said there is nothing here that objectively shows Samantha Green had any intent to harm the baby.
Mr. Muller also relied on the testimony of the forensic pathologist, arguing that Baby Justice had, unknown to the defendant, an atrial septal defect (ASD) which, under extreme conditions, put more stress on the heart and made him more susceptible to the cold.
He argued this was not a case of implied malice. Instead, meth use caused her to go into the slough. She maintained the safety of the child.
Mr. Muller put forth an argument for involuntary manslaughter, in effect criminal neglect rather than second degree murder.
Judge Rosenberg argued that there was a lot of drama that came out over the four days of the preliminary hearing – jealousy, infidelity, meth use, and even more sensational were claims about the involvement of the Illuminati and the influence of population control by an outside power.
However, he said, “at the bottom, this case is about a 19-day-old baby that died.” He said there was little question that she had violated the basic duty of a parent.
He said there was sufficient evidence that she put the baby in harm’s way by going out into the cold slough with the baby wearing only a wet onesie with his arms and legs exposed.
Ultimately, the question of whether the People prove that she committed second degree murder is one for the jury. Judge Rosenberg ruled that there was sufficient evidence to hold Ms. Green to answer for 2nd Degree Murder under an implied malice theory.
Ms. Green will be arraigned on the information on November 20.
—David M. Greenwald reporting