by Jade Wolansky and Raya Zahdeh
The Samantha Green trial resumed on August 22, 2016, at 9am in Department 14. Judge Rosenberg presided over the case. Public Defender Tracie Olson is representing Samantha Green, who is charged with the second-degree murder of her son, Justice Rees, with implied malice. Deputy DA Ryan Couzens and Deputy DA Robert Gorman are the prosecutors assigned to the case.
Before the jury entered the courtroom, Judge Rosenberg announced that he had just received the two motions Ms. Olson had filed on Sunday night. She had filed a motion to exclude Robert Kinsey’s (an entomologist expert witness) testimony and a motion for an Evidence Code section 402 hearing regarding the admissibility of Deputy Sean Rosner’s testimony about his K-9 unit. In response, Mr. Couzens filed oppositions to Ms. Olson’s motions.
Judge Rosenberg asked the prosecution if it would be possible to have the expert witness testify another day. Mr. Couzens protested and stated he preferred to have the expert witness come in today.
Counsel approached the bench to discuss the matter further. Judge Rosenberg ruled that witnesses will testify out of order and Ms. Olson’s motions would be addressed at a future point in time.
The first witness to take the stand was Kurt Zeiler from the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office.
Mr. Couzens asked what Mr. Zeiler’s role was in the Samantha Green case. Mr. Zeiler stated that he led the investigation in February and March of 2015. He testified that there was the initial investigation (when Justice Rees’ body was found) and two subsequent evidence searches. They found a lighter, ChapStick lip balm, mascara and Ms. Green’s purse with several items inside. All evidence was then handed in to Crime Scene Investigator Lauren Hartfield for examination.
Mr. Zeiler stated that the organization, Drowning Accident Rescue Team (DART), assisted with the evidence searches. Volunteers spaced themselves at arm’s length apart and crawled along the bank searching for evidence.
During cross-examination, Ms. Olson inquired about more details regarding the levee. Mr. Zeiler confirmed that the levee had a drop-off, approximately 8½ -9½ feet deep.
Next, Mr. Zeiler affirmed for Mr. Couzens that the lighter, ChapStick and mascara were not for certain Ms. Green’s. They may have just been items that were found relatively close to Ms. Green’s purse.
The next witness to testify was “JS,” a registered nurse in Woodland.
Mr. Couzens asked about JS’s contact with Ms. Green. JS testified that she was Ms. Green’s nurse and that she performed several assessments. In addition, she informed Ms. Green regarding hospital safety. JS noted especially that Ms. Green had a flat affect, a reduction in emotional expressiveness.
The prosecutor asked JS to clarify how she determined Green’s flat affect. JS explained that she came to this conclusion because Green lacked emotion in her answers and avoided eye contact during her care as a patient.
JS also stated that Ms. Green mentioned she had been assaulted.
Ms. Olson asked for further clarification on what specific patient care JS provided. JS stated that she performed a skin assessment and found scratches on Ms. Green’s legs and arms. She also noted that Green had a C-section scar which was healing.
JS stated that she, due to Ms. Green’s flat affect, repeated the hospital’s health instructions to ensure Ms. Green understood them. These health instructions included fall prevention and basic hygiene.
Next, Judge Rosenberg instructed the jury that there would be a 15-minute break.
During this time, Judge Rosenberg spoke with counsel on Ms. Olson’s motions and Mr. Couzen’s oppositions. Judge Rosenberg inquired about the relevance of the expert witness’s testimony.
Ms. Olson believed it was not necessary to have an entomologist expert witness testify. Mr. Couzens argued otherwise, and stated that the expert witness could provide more precise information on Justice Rees’ time of death through analyzing larvae found in the body. Mr. Couzens stated that this information was relevant because Ms. Green had given multiple answers on what time she had left Justice Rees.
Judge Rosenberg inquired whether the expert witness would provide an exact time. Mr. Couzens replied that the expert witness would testify to a range of time.
At this point, Mr. Couzens appeared to grow very irritable with Judge Rosenberg.
Ms. Olson cited a similar case, People v. Clark (1970), to argue that the expert witness would not provide proper evidence in his testimony. In People v. Clark (1970), an entomologist expert witness gave a range of time of death by analyzing larvae in the victim’s body. The defendant appealed the case because the defense believed that the expert witness substituted mathematical probability for relevant evidence. This was because there was no data on temperature and how it would affect larvae growth.
Mr. Couzens referred to the Kelly/Frye standard for admissibility of expert evidence to state that the expert witness’ testimony would be valid. Under the Kelly/Frye standard, methods that are accepted generally by the scientific community are admissible in court.
Ms. Olson, in response, referenced Sargon Enterprises, Inc. v. University of Southern California (2012), which ruled that trial judges are responsible for reviewing expert witnesses, including their methodology and whether the evidence they provide is valid.
Judge Rosenberg stated that the expert witness may cause jury bias, pursuant to California Evidence Code section 352, and that an EC section 402 hearing may be needed.
In respect to Deputy Sean Rosner’s testimony, Judge Rosenberg agreed with Ms. Olson’s motion and stated that a 402 hearing may be necessary as well.
Counsel approached the bench to discuss the issue with Judge Rosenberg.
The final witness was Kelly Arthur-Kenny, a forensic pathologist expert witness. She was assigned to examining Justice Rees’ body and determining his cause of death.
Mr. Gorman first asked Ms. Arthur-Kenny about Justice Rees’ autopsy. The witness stated that the body had no obvious fractures or skeletal fractions.
Ms. Arthur-Kenny explained in her testimony about the difference between neonatals and infants. A neonatal is a newborn that is under 30 days of age. An infant is a child that is from 0-1 year in age. The witness stated that neonatals are more susceptible to different diseases and conditions than infants.
She stated that Justice Rees suffered from atrial septal defect (ASD, a hole in the wall between the two upper chambers of the heart) and patent ductus arteriosus (PDA, a persistent opening between two major blood vessels leading to the heart). ASD is when the interatrial septum, the wall between the left and right atria, has a hole. PDA is when the ductus arteriosus does not close, as it usually does soon after birth. PDA and ASD are normal for fetuses, and often resolve themselves after birth. The condition is only abnormal if the holes in the interatrial septum and ductus arteriosus do not close after several months post-birth. She also explained that congenital heart disease is difficult to detect in neonatal children.
The witness determined Justice Rees’s death to be caused by unfavorable environmental conditions, dehydration and congenital heart disease.
During cross-examination, Ms. Olson asked if a mother’s methamphetamine abuse during pregnancy would cause ASD and PDA. Ms. Arthur-Kenny stated there was no strong evidence that there is a correlation.
Ms. Olson then asked the witness if she had sent any blood tests. Ms. Arthur-Kelly stated that she had sent blood samples to a laboratory and that no drugs were found present in the body.
by Raya Zahdeh
The trial for the People v Samantha Green case resumed on the afternoon of August 22, 2016, in Department 14, Judge Rosenberg presiding. Ms. Green is being charged with the murder of her infant son, Justice Rees.
The first witness to take the stand in the afternoon, continuing her testimony from the morning session, was forensic pathologist Dr. Kelly Arthur-Kenny, who conducted the autopsy of Justice Rees’s body. Dr. Arthur-Kenny stated that the results of the autopsy revealed that she could rule out physical or mechanical abuse as a possible cause of death, as Justice had no injuries to the brain or to any of his bones. She was also able to rule out malnutrition and drug exposure as other possible causes.
Furthermore, Arthur-Kenny conducted a test of the vitreous fluids, a type of postmortem chemical analysis. This particular fluid analysis reveals information regarding potassium levels, dehydration, etc. The results showed that potassium levels were elevated in this case, which is expected in a dead body and indicates that internal decomposition has begun. She was unable to test the urea nitrogen levels that would indicate dehydration levels or quality of kidney function, as there was an insufficient amount of the specimen available.
Based on the autopsy, Dr. Arthur-Kenny narrowed the possible causes of the death of baby Justice down to his cardiovascular heart defects and environmental exposure. In addition, she stated that his lungs and brain tissue had edema (extra fluids) and that many of his organs were congested (filled with blood), both of which are common findings in all autopsies.
Arthur-Kenny confirmed that lung, brain and heart hemorrhaging had occurred, as well as red blood cell extravasation (blood release out of vessels and into surrounding tissue.) At one point during the cross-examination, Arthur-Kenny stated with certainty that, if she had done the same autopsy in a case just like this but with an infant who did not have heart defects, the environmental exposure the baby was subjected to in this case would have likely been the cause of death on its own. It was also her opinion that the position the baby was found in was not the same position that the baby had died in, based on various medical factors that she observed during the autopsy.
The second witness to give her testimony was “MS,” the mother of “SS.” During the testimony, MS stated that her daughter SS had previously been married to Frank Rees (the father of Justice Rees) for seven years. MS had kept in touch with Frank Rees and Samantha Green, and occasionally spent time with her grandchildren, Mr. Rees’ children with SS.
MS stated that, on Monday, February 23, 2015, she had encountered Mr. Rees, Ms. Green and Justice Rees in the garage of their home. She described the scene as cold and smelly, and stated that she saw drugs all over the place, including methamphetamine pipes and marijuana.
MS further stated that Ms. Green and Frank were not in good condition at the time, and that both seemed to be under the influence of drugs. MS said Justice was not clothed appropriately, and that he had been shivering from the cold. Ms. Green appeared to be upset and did not allow MS to hold the baby, as she claimed that the baby was ill. She also did not welcome any suggestions from MS regarding ways to comfort the infant.
The case is scheduled to resume at 9 AM on Tuesday, August 23, in Department 14.