My View: The Troubling Case of Samantha Green

Yolo County Courthouse - New
Samantha Green now faces murder charges in the death of Justice Rees
Samantha Green now faces murder charges in the death of Justice Rees

It took the DA’s office nearly nine months to articulate a theory of second degree murder and implied malice in the tragic death of Justice Rees. The DA hid the ball for the most part, from the time they announced the additional charges until the point at which they deferred argument until the very end of the preliminary hearing.

The tactics clearly frustrated the defense. The defense had wanted to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment back in March and, when the DA’s office filed a motion to amend the complaint and change the main charge from involuntary manslaughter to murder, the public defender’s office moved for vindictive prosecution.

Judge David Rosenberg denied the defense the motion back in March, and, on Thursday, Deputy Public Defender David Muller requested a chance to respond to the prosecution’s case. Judge Rosenberg denied that, arguing that the prosecution always gets the last word as they bear the burden of proof.

A clearly frustrated David Muller blurted out that this was prosecutorial misconduct, Judge Rosenberg quietly said enough, and “I’m surprised at you.” But, given the secrecy  in which this theory was guarded, the frustration of the defense is understandable.

The problem that the defense faces is twofold – there is the law and the sensibilities of the jury. A very reasonable question can be raised as to whether Ms. Green can get a fair trial in Woodland, where the community was up in arms over the tragic death of Justice Rees last February following a dramatic manhunt.

In an interesting twist, it was the defense who put the horrifying images of the lifeless Justice Rees lying in the thicket – still in his wet onesie, arms and legs exposed. The defense was arguing that the lack of scratches and marks showed that Ms. Green had taken the steps necessary to protect the baby in the harsh elements.

The family members in the audience quickly reacted to the shocking images with emotional responses and some had to leave the room. The reaction illustrates the exact problem the defense faces – Ms. Green acted as no reasonable parent or even any reasonable human would.

A jury will have to decide if she possessed a callous indifference to human life, no doubt fueled by the emotional turmoil of her crumbling relationship and the paranoia and illogic of the chemical addiction to methamphetamine.

Deputy DA Ryan Couzens skillfully crafted a coherent narrative of Ms. Green’s fragile mindset. Frank Rees was disloyal to her. He had requested that she have a threesome with him and another woman.

Mr. Rees then went to pick up this other woman to drive her some place. From Samantha Green’s perspective, she couldn’t understand why he would go be with this other woman rather than her and the baby.

She then seemed to craft this illogical and improbable scheme of going to the slough as a way to force him to come find her. We see here the disconnect between her mindset and reality, but as Mr. Couzens pointed out, meth use doesn’t become any sort of legal defense.

She took the baby to the slough, was clearly crawling around and bush beating her way through. The defense showed her body covered in cuts, scrapes, and scratches from head to toe. The baby she managed to protect from the thicket and branches, but not from the cold and not from dehydration or hunger.

She then abandoned Baby Justice in these elements and eventually went to the authorities. Mr. Couzens argued that she was not suffering from delusions as they were too inconsistent. Her explanations became increasingly fanciful and disconnected from reality. At first she was sexually assaulted according, to her statements to Officer Pelle of the Woodland Police Department.

When that story crumbled, she talked about government conspiracies, the Illuminati, mind control and other outside control. While Mr. Couzens plays this off as fabrication, it seems more likely meth-induced paranoia spinning increasingly out of control. Spend a few minutes with a hard core meth addict and you encounter these kinds of trains of thought.

The question as to whether this was murder or involuntary manslaughter will inevitably come down to a jury. It is hard to see a jury viewing those images of Baby Justice without coming down on the side of second degree murder.

Most observers were initially surprised by the involuntary manslaughter charge at the start. Given the record of this DA’s office, it is not surprising that they would charge this case as a second degree murder case – however, at the same time, the DA hasn’t always gotten the conviction they have sought.

Why the DA went to such lengths to play peek-a-boo with the charges and their theory of the case is something to ponder as we await a trial here. Was it strategy, gamesmanship, or a bit of both?

Mr. Couzens argued that, under an implied malice theory, Samantha 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.”

Judge Rosenberg, in his ruling, said 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 can 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.

But the burden there was probable cause to hold her over – now the People must prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Again, a jury is going to have a hard time putting aside the emotion of the death of a defenseless baby, which is probably why the defense fought so hard to reduce the charges during the preliminary hearing and will likely do so again during a 995 motion (Penal Code section 995 motion to dismiss) to set aside the charges.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Tia Will

    the paranoia and illogic of the chemical addiction to methamphetamine.”

    “as Mr. Couzens pointed out, meth use doesn’t become any sort of legal defense.”

    “Mr. Couzens argued that she was not suffering from delusions as they were too inconsistent.”

    I have several thoughts about this and am writing as a doctor who once made a very serious error which luckily did not end in this kind of tragedy. My error was in not recognizing the severity of an illness. I correctly diagnosed a patient with postpartum depression, correctly consulted, prescribed an antidepressant and arranged for follow up appointments with a psychiatrist. My error was in not recognizing that what the patient actually had would evolve into a postpartum psychotic episode in which she hallucinated Jesus telling her to take her baby, with no support ( clothes, diapers…) , on a cross country road trip necessary to save him from the devil. Fortunately her husband discerned her intent and route and found her before any harm occurred.

    My point ?  Chemical addiction to methamphetamine is a mental illness just as surely as is a hormonally induced psychotic break.  This is a failure to diagnose and treat an illness and to protect the child by those who should have been monitoring the safety of this child. It is a societal as well as an individual failure. The outcome is tragic. It should never have happened. But how can one possibly “prove” that she acted with “malice” other than to rely on the emotional outpouring of the jurors rather than any assessment of fact ?  What good will be served by the conviction on the second degree murder charge ? Do we honestly think that a harsher sentence will serve any deterrent purpose other than the specific time when this individual will be incarcerated ? This woman needs treatment for a mind destroying illness, and yes, society needs protection from the consequent actions. But if we are considering “justice” what about the father of the baby ? A free  pass for him ? Does he not bear equal responsibility for the welfare of the child he fathered ?



    1. Davis Progressive

      from a legal standpoint  there is a huge difference – the law does not excuse someone who has intentionally involuntarily chosen to take harmful chemicals and drugs into their body from the effects of those chemicals and drugs.   that makes early go culpability for the effects of taking mth very different from the effects of postpartum depression from a legal standpoint

      1. Tia Will


        I understand your point. I just hope I live to see the day when our legal system will consider addiction and its adverse consequences as an illness which requires treatment, just as we do schizophrenia. d

        1. Napoleon Pig IV


          I think you have made important points here about the pathology of addiction versus the status of free will of the addict. It is a tragedy that “the law” has not caught up with modern medical knowledge, because by lagging so far behind, countless people who might otherwise receive help receive nothing, and others become innocent victims of the untreated addicts.

          It certainly is not a simple problem. It would help to end the “war on drugs” which encourages corruption, does little or nothing to reduce use, and allows public complacency as an obstacle to political change.

          DP correctly states “the law does not excuse. . .” What we need to realize is that “the law” is whatever we as a society decide it will be. It has no will of its own, is not divinely endowed, and can be changed and improved. Tragedies like this one should stimulate serious work toward legal changes and reconsideration of what public resources should be made available to help those suffering from addiction and other mental or psychiatric diseases.

    2. Miwok

      Chemical addiction to methamphetamine is a mental illness just as surely as is a hormonally induced psychotic break

      I wondered what Dr Tia would see in this, and to me she is seeing an excuse for killing a kid. Only the survivors get Justice.

      Drunks kill someone? Let them off because they have a “disease”.

      I guess I wouldn’t want my doctor to have any other attitude.

      1. Tia Will


        to me she is seeing an excuse for killing a kid.”

        Drunks kill someone? Let them off because they have a “disease”.”

        I don’t recall having said anything about “letting anyone off”. I was clear that I feel the mother needs treatment and society needs protection from her. I was clear that I believe that the father also has culpability. I was clear that I feel that there may have been lapses in others performing their jobs adequately.

        Please quote where I said anyone should not accept their part of the responsibility and be held accountable for their role.

        1. hpierce

          Maybe this is a good instance that whenever the woman is no longer in custody, she should be required to have one of those contraceptive implant things, only to be removed at the discretion of the Court?

  2. tj

    Tia,   I wonder if Samantha had serious post partum depression exacerbated by the baby’s father’s callous, uncaring attitude toward her and his baby?   And this might have been made very much worse due to the meth addiction.

    CPS has not been mentioned lately, but that office made a fatal error in it’s plan for the baby’s care and welfare.  No doubt the DA does not want to bring that up due to county liability and the fact CPS and the DA work closely together, depend on each other, when working on their usual cases.

    1. Tia Will


      I agree that there is plenty of room for self assessment on the part of many individuals involved in the short life of this infant. I also understand that within our legal system the primary emphasis is placing blame and establishing “punishment”. And thus, we have not only this tragic death but the tragedy of a missed learning opportunity about how we, as health care providers, as social workers, as fathers, as relatives might step up to avert such a tragedy in the future.

  3. tj

    I would add, Tia, that local legal systems are staffed by county employees who do not want to incur for the county any county liability.  So blame is placed on Samantha, a very fragile and troubled young woman, coping with a brand new baby, and so far, our taxpayer paid CPS staff’s failures are publicly ignored.  I’d hope CPS is focused on this case as a learning opportunity, especially now there’s a relatively new and pro-active director in place.

  4. Tia Will


    With regard to the implants placed in the arm, with their negligible medical risks,
    I would be so much in favor of your suggestion that I would volunteer my services to place and remove them.

    1. hpierce


      Does negate “reproductive rights”, though, but in this case I can live with that… after all, there would be no “life”, nor “products of conception”.

      1. Tia Will


        Does negate “reproductive rights”

        True. But only temporarily which distinguishes it from sterilization. There is also existing precedent for this in medicine. There is one type of acne medicine that is so teratogenic that dermatologists will not prescribe it unless the patient is documented to be using two forms of contraception. What is being said is that this medication is so dangerous that it cannot be prescribed unless the patient voluntarily ( and temporarily) give up her ability to conceive. The analogy in this situation would be, your disease has proven to be so dangerous that you will voluntarily ( and temporarily) give up your ability to conceive until your disease ( addiction) has been successfully managed.

  5. Tia Will


    I am in complete agreement with your post. It is amazing to me that while medicine has in the 30 years in which I have been in practice made tremendous moves away from a precedent and expert opinion based model to a scientific and evidence based model while our legal systems seem to rely on a “precedent based ” model regardless of what more recent evidence shows. It was a long fight in medicine and it looks to be an even longer one in the legal system despite the fact that as your pointed out the law is what we decide it will be.

    1. hpierce

      Yes… we should exonerate the mother of ALL charges, and hold CPS FULLY responsible.  She is a victim of “the system”/society/ drug laws.  I get it.  Not. Justice is truly dead.

  6. Tia Will


    Yes… we should exonerate the mother of ALL charges, and hold CPS FULLY responsible.  She is a victim of “the system”/society/ drug laws.  I get it.  Not. Justice is truly dead

    Hang on there. Who said anything about complete exoneration or complete vilification ? Addiction destroys the brain’s ability to process cause and effect. It destroys our normal cognitive functioning and inhibitions. And it does not necessarily do this only while the drug is on board. In the interim when the drug is not present, the addict may become singularly focused on the next dose of drug to the exclusion of essentially all else. None of this means that the addict should be “exonerated”. I fully believe in an adult taking full responsibility for their actions. But I believe that this responsibility should mean treatment and service to community in whatever setting provides public safety while this process is being completed. I recently heard an interview on NPR in which the addicted woman, now drug free said that it took her 7 years in prison to free herself of the thought processes related to addiction. During those years she slowly, gradually began participating in programs centered around addiction free living and now heads such a program in the community. For me, this, not punishment in our extremely inhumane and ineffective prison system should be the goal.

    As for the second point, do you believe that a very thorough review of the processes that allow a meth user to take a baby home without extremely strict supervision should not be conducted ? Now it might be that everything was done exactly right. Well, then that is great and the professionals involved should be congratulated on their diligence and reassured that there was nothing more that they could have done. But if flaws in the system are identified, then those could be rectified. Are you arguing against this kind of review ?



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