By Christina D.
On August 29, 2016, in Department 14, the prosecution continued to call witnesses to the stand for the Samantha Green trial. She is accused of murder in the death of her infant son, Justice Rees, in February of 2015.
A social worker practitioner, “VZ,” from the Yolo County Child Welfare Services (CWS, previously called CPS, for Child Protective Services), testified to her experiences working with Ms. Green. VZ is part of the Emergency Response Unit, whose responsibilities include balancing the safety of children and reunification of families. VZ testified that, at any sign of danger, CWS would automatically remove the child from the home. They have the authority to seek a warrant or utilize law enforcement, or file a petition to bring a case to court.
VZ received a referral from Green’s hospital and first met with Green there on February 6, 2015. Green denied her drug usage and claimed she only tried drugs once. Then she was more forthcoming when confronted with test results, but still minimized her drug usage. Based on their meeting and other reports (VZ knew Baby Justice had tested positive for drugs, and about the history of drug use and welfare services involvement with the family), VZ placed a protective hold on Justice. While VZ worked with the parents to develop a safety plan for Justice’s return home, they could not leave the hospital with the child in their custody or care.
On February 9, 2015, VZ met Green, her boyfriend Frank Rees (father of Baby Justice), and his parents “WR” and “PR.” At the meeting, they went through three lists of what they thought were strengths/things they were doing well, things they were worried about, and the plan for creating a safe home for Justice. The positives were that the plan had the support of Justice’s grandparents, WR and PR. However, they were worried about the baby not being in the home very often, about the housing situation, and Frank Rees’ unwillingness to use CalWorks and food stamps. Mr. Rees was worried about the baby not having his siblings at home (custody of his other four kids was also being evaluated in another case). The main concern shared by all parties was drug usage.
VZ testified that, when talking about drug use, Green seemed to understand the consequences of daily methamphetamine use and the dangers it presents to the child. She was also engaged in the conversation, didn’t suffer from decompensation or have illusions about meth, and was willing and open to confront problems. On the other hand, Rees seemed disengaged, disinterested, and preoccupied, like he was above the situation and had other things to do. Although the grandparents said he was draining their resources, Rees responded that he didn’t like to go the aid office and that it was inconvenient for him. VZ testified that if the grandparents said they knew of drug usage at home, there was a risk of reassessment and getting the other four children removed.
Conditions of the safety plan for Justice to return included subjection to random drug tests, drug rehabilitation programs for Green, and accessing county resources for housing money and legal advice on keeping custody of the other four children. VZ testified that Green did make a phone call to a drug rehabilitation center once, but didn’t follow up; Rees met with a social worker about resources only once.
After February 9, VZ did not meet with the family again until February 23, the day Green went missing. VZ received a call on February 23, 2015, from Justice’s paternal aunt, “CR.” VZ testified that the call may have triggered her to visit unannounced around 12pm, only to find Green missing from the house. VZ also received another call on February 25, 2015, from FR’s ex-wife AJ, regarding a February 21 incident. AJ met Green at a McDonald’s, and thought that Green did not dress Justice appropriately for the cold weather.
VZ assessed risks for children on almost a daily basis for seven and a half years, but she never ordered Green for random drug testing. She said it may have been because of the overwhelming size of the caseload, and that there were other more urgent cases that took priority; statistically, families with a newborn generally make it through their first week.
The second witness of the day, “CC,” had been a staff nurse for Kaiser Roseville in the neonatal intensive care unit for 16 years. CC examined Justice for three hours during her shift, and found that he had a higher Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) score than what the nurse in the baby-mother unit had reported. The NAS is a term for a group of problems observed in the newborn which reflect withdrawal from exposure to drugs before birth. The higher score was due to an additional observation about Justice’s elevated temperature, which may have been hyperthermia due to the meth in his system. She suspected the fever was due to meth, but was not sure. Although it depends on the baby when fevers caused by meth subside, Justice’s temperature went down the next day. He was also scored for tremors, high-pitched cries indicative of substance withdrawal, and inability to keep food down.
The third witness was “MS,” Frank Rees’ mother-in-law who had given testimony earlier, but was recalled. She had called the district attorney and public defender’s office, saying she had more to say but wasn’t asked during her testimony. MS testified that she definitely saw Green on February 23, 2015, the morning of her disappearance, and that Green not only seemed under the influence of something, but was frantic and in a hurry. Green talked really fast and seemed to be in the worst condition MS had ever seen her in, but Green was still able to seat herself in the car Rees was driving. When the public defender’s office called back, asking what she was going to say in court, MS refused to say, citing that she had been fair to both sides in court.
The fourth witness, “AV,” was a medical doctor from the Sutter Medical Group in Sacramento. AV works as the medical director of the B.E.A.R. (Bridging Evidence Assessment & Resources) Center, a program which conducts voluntary assessments for victims of adult sexual assault. AV examined Green for three hours on February 25, 2015, at 12pm, including reviewing medical history and details about the situation, as well as a head-to-toe examination and a more focused exam of the anus and genitalia.
During the questioning of her history, Green was tearful at first, then turned very tired and sleepy, but was still oriented enough to answer questions appropriately. When asked specifically about the alleged assault and sexual acts, Green cited memory loss and loss of consciousness. However, Green remembered that the assault happened on February 23, 2015, at 2-3pm, at an area outside of Knights Landing, and by someone named “Cary,” whom she identified as around 42 years old, white, and her boyfriend’s friend. She also remembered that he touched her breasts and was “going down her pants.” To questions about use of controlled substances, Green admitted to using drugs, including marijuana.
During the physical examination, AV found multiple scratches over Green’s arms, legs, buttocks, and back, as well as some bruises. They were consistent with the history of assault, meaning a layperson could understand that something like assault could have happened based on the injuries. There was possible saliva on the right breast, and also debris found near her genitalia, which was collected and sent to the lab.
by Raya Zahdeh
The People v. Green trial resumed on the afternoon of August 29, 2016, in Department 14, Judge Rosenberg presiding. The defendant, Samantha Green, is being charged with second-degree murder of her infant son, Justice Rees.
The first witness to give her testimony was a Detective Polay, a former police officer and an emergency medical technician (EMT). Detective Polay interviewed Samantha Green in the paramedic vehicle at the site of the incident on February 25, 2015.
Before the detective gave her testimony, the court played an audio recording of the interview between Det. Polay and Ms. Green in the EMT vehicle. The audio recording revealed that Ms. Green had been crying hysterically and was unable to control her emotions. The detective was constantly trying to calm her down and gain as much information on what had happened as quickly as possible in order to find Baby Justice.
During the interview, Ms. Green stated that she had “blacked out” and had no recollection of how she and Justice ended up in the state they were in. She claimed that she woke up that morning propped up against a tree, with Baby Justice propped up next to her. However, Ms. Green could not recall how they ended up in that position and did not remember falling asleep against the tree.
When she woke up, Ms. Green felt numb and cold, and stated that Baby Justice’s body was cold as well. She proceeded to bring him closer to her and to talk to him, when she noticed that he was unresponsive to her touch and voice. At that point, Samantha believed that her son was probably dead. She proceeded to get up and look for help, during which time she swam across the river and stumbled through the surrounding bushes. No further details were given regarding what happened after she left Baby Justice by the tree, to search for help.
When the detective asked Ms. Green how she and Justice ended up in that area of Knights Landing to begin with (the day before the interview), Samantha answered that she had been looking for Frank (Rees), her fiancé and the father of Justice Rees. Earlier that day, she had stopped by her house to pick up Baby Justice’s formula while Rees was supposedly already on his way to the same area to which she and Justice ended up driving. In addition, Green stated that she suspected Rees had been cheating on her with a woman known as “MC,” and that Rees might have been with MC in that area.
Upon arriving at Knights Landing, Green pulled over, got out of the car, and began walking while carrying Justice, a diaper bag, and the milk bottle. She said that Rees’ car was nowhere to be found and that she set out to find him on foot.
According to the detective, Green was unable to recall the details of what had occurred after that point, up until the next morning when she woke up against a tree next to Justice.
The next witness to take the stand was “TW.” TW was previously employed as a social worker at the Yolo County Jail. Currently, she is a supervisor for the psychologists and social workers at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, specifically at the Mule Creek State Prison.
On February 28, 2016, TW had been employed as a social worker at the Yolo County Jail, and met with Ms. Green that morning. TW stated that she received a call the night before from the on-call clinician, who told TW that Ms. Green had been placed on suicide watch and that she was to do an assessment on her the following morning.
The information that TW obtained from the assessment indicated that Ms. Green had not affirmed experiencing any audio or visual hallucinations. According to TW, Green claimed to have been subjected to physical, sexual and mental abuse in her previous relationship of seven years, which had ended three years prior to their meeting. In addition, Green’s records indicated that she had been diagnosed with anxiety and she claimed that she smokes marijuana to control her anxiety.
Afterward, Ms. Green stated that she had previously experienced audio and visual hallucinations after using methamphetamine during the two days that she and Baby Justice were missing. While she was missing in Knights Landing with Justice, she remembered hearing “hell’s gates” and “seeing Satan,” and also believed that people were out to hurt her baby.
Upon further questioning regarding her drug use, Ms. Green told TW that she first started using methamphetamine three years prior to their meeting. She claimed to have quit using the drug for some period of time during those three years, but ended up re-using for the past ten months prior to February 28. Ms. Green also claimed to have been using methamphetamine almost every day for two weeks prior to the incident during which she and Justice went missing, on February 23, 2015.
After the assessment, TW diagnosed Green with the following: anxiety, methamphetamine dependence, post-partum depression (provisional), substance-induced psychotic disorder and/or mood disorder (provisional.) Ms. Green and TW met again on March 7, 2015, for a follow-up appointment, as Green had been placed under mental health observation after being removed from suicide watch.