By Mariel Barbadillo
The trial for the People v. Samantha Lee Green resumed on August 18, 2016. Ms. Green is charged with the murder of her son, Justice Rees. Murder is defined in California Penal Code section 187 as the unlawful killing of another human being or fetus with malice aforethought.
Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens gave an opening statement on behalf of the People. His co-counsel, Deputy District Attorney Robert Gorman, accompanied him.
The prosecution’s presentation began with a phone call recording in which Ms. Green is heard explaining the night in question. Mr. Couzens recounted that on February 23, 2015, Ms. Green took her 19-day-old son to a slough while high on methamphetamine. Her baby ultimately succumbed to the cold weather and died. Ms. Green then allegedly left the baby’s body in the dirt by a tree to be found days later.
Mr. Couzens went on to highlight themes of the case, specifically excuse and blame shifting. He accused the defense of excusing the defendant’s actions or placing blame on everyone except the defendant. He claimed the defense is attempting to make Ms. Green appear as the victim, when Justice is the only victim in this case.
The prosecution then began to discuss Frank Rees, Ms. Green’s then-fiancée. According to Mr. Couzens, Mr. Rees was not nice, trustworthy, or helpful. His behavior created problems in his relationship with Ms. Green, which culminated on February 20, 2015, when he suggested he and Ms. Green have group sex with a babysitter.
Several days later, Mr. Rees again suggested a threesome, this time with a woman both he and Ms. Green knew. Ms. Green said no at first, but then reluctantly said yes to appease her fiancée.
The two of them took separate cars to Knights Landing to meet with this woman. The prosecution said this was likely because there was an understanding that one of them would have to leave after the fact, most likely Ms. Green.
The couple then had a fight about infidelity, and Ms. Green told Mr. Rees she was no longer going with him. He drove to Knights Landing without her. Later, Ms. Green allegedly texted him, saying something along the lines of, “I love you babe. I’m on my way.”
Prior to driving to Knights Landing, the defendant stopped at a Chevron station, which is where investigators found the last footage accounting for Ms. Green’s whereabouts on the night in question.
The next day, the family grew concerned because nFeither Ms. Green nor Mr. Rees had picked up Mr. Rees’s children from his parents’ house. They filed a missing person’s report. Someone then saw a flyer and said they had seen the car belonging to Ms. Green.
A K-9 unit was dispatched, using the scent from the defendant’s car to locate her. Officers later found Ms. Green’s belongings, including her purse and submerged tablet, which was retrievable.
An individual, “RV,” ultimately found Ms. Green. The defendant allegedly told this man she was kidnapped and didn’t know what happened. She did not mention Justice until the man asked her if she was alone.
In another account of the incident, according to the prosecution, Ms. Green mentioned a dream of a white-haired man. She claimed she was raped, and she left Justice to look for help.
On February 25, the defendant spoke to different detectives. She said she was dizzy that night as a man, “KF,” chased after her and groped her. She supposedly jumped in the water with her baby in order to get away from this man. The prosecution, however, said investigative evidence later showed KF was a highly unlikely suspect.
In an interview with another detective, Ms. Green disclosed that she and Mr. Rees had used meth. She explained that Mr. Rees told her the apocalypse was coming and that she needed to escape with their baby. When asked about KF, she admitted that the sexual assault never happened.
To yet another officer, Ms. Green claimed her life was at risk. She said KF threatened her, saying that Mr. Rees was tied up in Knights Landing and needed to take their baby to save him. He allegedly said he would hurt her if she spoke about this exchange.
The prosecution told the jurors they will be presented with evidence that shows Ms. Green has experience with meth and is aware of the dangers of taking the drug. Mr. Couzens showed a Facebook post in which Ms. Green appears to be communicating with a friend, claiming she is an unfit mother due to her drug addiction.
Justice was born testing positive for meth because Ms. Green used drugs during her pregnancy, including the day before she gave birth. She agreed to stop using meth in order to keep custody of Justice.
However, the defendant was unable to overcome her addiction and began to use meth again. Because she had used meth before, during and after her pregnancy, the prosecution stated Ms. Green had complete disregard for Justice and his well-being.
The prosecution contended Ms. Green’s actions were not solely the result of drugs, but that she was also fueled by jealousy. Mr. Couzens referenced a previous relationship in which Ms. Green allegedly kicked down a door to get at her ex-boyfriend.
Mr. Couzens reiterated his belief that Ms. Green consciously made the choices she did on the night in question: she consciously drove to Knights Landing, consciously took her baby to the slough, and consciously left him there in the cold.
He cited a pathologist who said the baby’s death was due to stress from the unfavorable environmental conditions, dehydration, and congenital heart disease. Justice had a perforated heart that made him more vulnerable to the extreme cold weather, which exacerbated his condition.
The prosecution closed by stating this trial is not about circumstances, but rather it is about choices. They assert that the evidence will show Ms. Green is guilty for the consequences resulting from the choices she made.
Tracie Olson, Public Defender of Yolo County, then gave an opening statement on behalf of Ms. Green.
The defense asserted that the story really begins in April of 2014, when Ms. Green quit her job due to her meth addiction and she and her roommates at the time were losing their apartment. Mr. Rees, the defendant’s drug dealer at the time, offered to let her stay at his place. Aside from drug dealing, Mr. Rees was unemployed. He lived with his parents and four kids from two ex-wives.
Mr. Rees and Ms. Green engaged in a sexual relationship and, a month later, Ms. Green was pregnant.
Refuting the prosecution’s claims that Ms. Green did not care for her child, the defense stated she had prepared for her baby’s birth and held a baby shower as a testament to her excitement. Ms. Green also took care of Mr. Rees’ kids – at first because she had to, but then because they bonded. According to the defense, Mr. Rees’ children sometimes called Ms. Green “Mom” and that made her happy.
For the first five months of her pregnancy, Ms. Green used meth with Mr. Rees. During this time, the defense said “Frank’s oddness” started to show. Mr. Rees would tell Ms. Green strange things, such as that there were cameras in their home watching them. At one point, he drilled a hole into a wall to show her the camera wires.
As ridiculous as it seemed at first, what Ms. Green was told began to become real to her. Mr. Rees was scared and paranoid, which in turn made Ms. Green scared and paranoid.
The day before Justice was born, Ms. Green used meth again. Justice was born by C-section and, testing positive for meth, he was put in the ICU for four to five days.
When babies are born positive for controlled substances, Child Protective Services are called to meet with the child’s family. CPS met with the Green and Rees family to discuss “worries” about drug use, Justice not coming home, and the housing situation due to the unemployment of both parents. Together, they created a “safety plan,” which included treatment, random drug tests, and, most importantly, the discontinuance of meth use.
The social worker then allowed Justice to go home. The defense emphasized that mentioning this is not shifting blame, but a social worker is supposed to assess situations for potential risk prior to making such a judgment.
After Justice’s birth, the defense said Ms. Green and Mr. Rees went back to doing “what drug addicts do,” meaning they relapsed into smoking and injecting meth once again.
On the night of February 21 and early morning of the 22nd, Mr. Rees reportedly performed a rectal injection of methamphetamine on Ms. Green as a means of sexual inducement. The first two injections did not have the desired effect, but after the third shot, the two had sexual intercourse.
The defense described Mr. Rees as a “womanizer,” saying he has cheated on Ms. Green before with his ex-wife and he repeatedly suggested group sex. They had conversations about threesomes, both hypothetical and actual. They supposedly agreed on engaging in a threesome with the woman on the night in question, but Ms. Green later decided otherwise. Mr. Rees went to meet with the woman anyway.
After he left, Ms. Green changed her mind and went to find Mr. Rees. At this point, Ms. Green said things got “hazy and dreamlike.”
Ms. Olson then said she would only tell the jury about the “what” of the incident, because the “why” is convoluted.
At the slough in Knights Landing, Ms. Green was reportedly carrying her shoes, purse, diaper bag, and baby in her arms. The slough was deeper than she thought, and she fell into the water. At this point, she let go of her belongings, but she held on to Justice. Although they were both wet, Ms. Green tried to hold her baby above water to keep him safe.
As she walked around the area, Ms. Green somehow became covered in scratches, bruises, and sunburn. The defense showed pictures of the defendant when she was found, exhibiting scratches and bruises all over her body. Justice, however, did not show signs of scratches or bruises. He was reportedly wrapped in Ms. Green’s pea coat.
Ms. Green then passed out by a tree. When she woke up, she supposedly saw things that weren’t real. That is when she said she noticed Justice was cold and not breathing, and she concluded he was dead. She screamed and walked around looking for help, leaving Justice behind because she did not want to disturb his body.
Despite what the prosecution says the pathologist will present regarding Justice’s cause of death, the coroner ruled the cause of death is undetermined. No signs of neglect, abuse or malnutrition were found. Moreover, there were no signs of smothering or drowning.
The defense told the jury they will hear from three medical professionals, one of whom is hired by the defense. This particular expert witness will give an opinion on drug-induced psychosis. This is pertinent to the defense’s case of framing Mr. Rees’ “psychobabble” as the basis for Ms. Green’s delusions. The combination of what Mr. Rees told Ms. Green in addition to meth resulted in a phenomenon known as “folie à deux,” a term used to describe two people sharing the same delusions.
To attest to Mr. Rees’ delusions, the defense mentioned that Mr. Rees talked to the district attorney’s office about what he thought happened to his baby. He said there is video footage of four people in his home and they may be responsible. When asked if he knew these individuals, Mr. Rees allegedly told the DA’s office that Willy Wonka was in his home.
Mr. Rees also claimed he was “gaslighting” Ms. Green, or, in other words, manipulating her to the point that she did not believe her own judgment. He laughed as he said this.
While the “why” of this case will be confusing for the jury to determine, the defense asserts that what never changed was Ms. Green’s love for her son. She loved him, cared for him, sang to him, and kept him warm.
The defense closed by presenting pictures of sentimental items Ms. Green held on to. Pictures included Justice’s hospital wristband, Ms. Green’s own hospital wristband, items from the baby shower, and the baby’s first cap. Ms. Green began to cry as the pictures were shown.
The defense asserted that Ms. Green’s actions may be classified as criminal negligence or manslaughter, but she did not commit murder.
Witness testimonies will begin on the morning of August 19. The trial is expected to last five weeks.