Final Witness Testifies in Samantha Green Trial

YoloCourt-26by Jade Wolansky

The Monday afternoon session in Department 14 began with Dr. Joan Gerbasi, the prosecution’s expert witness. Dr. Gerbasi is certified in clinical and forensic psychiatry. She also serves as chief psychiatrist at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, for prisoners with medical and psychiatric needs. Defendant Samantha Green is charged with second degree murder in the death of her infant son, Justice Rees, in February of 2015.

Dr. Gerbasi concluded that Ms. Green went to Knights Landing because she was trying to follow her fiancé Frank Rees, father of the baby, and “Monica,” a woman with whom Ms. Green suspected Mr. Rees was having an affair. However, the doctor stated she was unsure of the reasons why Ms. Green had entered the slough. Nonetheless, the witness believed that Green’s drug intoxication had increased once she arrived at Knights Landing.

Public Defender Tracie Olson proceeded with her cross-examination of the witness. She inquired if Ms. Green’s actions indicated disorganization. For instance, according to the doctor, when Ms. Green entered the chilly Knights Landing slough water and walked through thick brush, lack of organization in her behavior was possible.

Ms. Olson then asked Dr. Gerbasi to explain psychosis. The witness stated that non-linear thinking and illogical behavior are both symptoms of psychosis. Ms. Olson inquired if psychosis could wax and wane. Dr. Gerbasi replied affirmatively.

At this point, Dr. Gerbasi explained that she did not diagnose Ms. Green with drug-induced psychosis because, historically, psychosis has not been diagnosed when symptoms are on and off and are not the focus of clinical attention by professionals.

Next, Ms. Olson inquired if hypothermia could have influenced Ms. Green’s behavior on February 23, 2015 and if the witness had considered this possibility in her diagnosis. Dr. Gerbasi replied that she had; however, she stated that a determination as to what degree hypothermia had affected Ms. Green was beyond her area of expertise.

The defense asked Dr. Gerbasi to explain Ms. Green’s behavior after she had discovered Justice Rees’ body. Dr. Gerbasi stated that Green’s reasons for claiming she had been raped and kidnapped are unclear. However, the doctor concluded it was most likely because Green was attempting to make sense of the fact that her child had passed away.

The prosecution, Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens, then began re-direct examination. Mr. Couzens emphasized Ms. Green’s multiple accounts of what had happened at Knights Landing. He asked Gerbasi throughout her testimony if she had reviewed Ms. Green’s varying statements.

Mr. Couzens drew attention to where Ms. Green’s pea coat and Justice Rees’ body had been found. The pea coat had been discovered on the opposite side of a large bramble from where the baby’s body had been. Mr. Couzens suggested that Ms. Green crawled through brush to hide her wrongdoing.

At this point, Judge David Rosenberg interrupted and informed Mr. Couzens that his line of questioning would be more appropriate for the jury. He reminded the prosecutor to focus his examination of the witness on psychiatry.

Next, Judge Rosenberg asked the jury if they had any further questions for Dr. Gerbasi. Mr. Couzens was assigned to read the questions to the court. He stated he would also have his own follow up questions.

A jury member inquired why Ms. Green’s intoxication increased, when it would normally be assumed drug levels would decrease over time.

Dr. Gerbasi replied there are several reasons why this is possible. She explained that individuals metabolize drugs at different rates. She noted that, due to Ms. Green’s multiple accounts, it is uncertain when Ms. Green had last used methamphetamine. In addition, drugs can suddenly kick in after consumption. Dr. Gerbasi was certain this had occurred because Ms. Green had linear behavior before arriving at Knights Landing. She had assisted with Frank Rees’ other children and had driven that morning.

Mr. Couzens’ follow up questions pertained to Dr. Gerbasi’s testimony on perseveration, the uncontrolled repetition of a particular response. He asked Gerbasi if perseveration indicated unconsciousness.

Dr. Gerbasi answered in the negative. She explained that perseveration occurs when an individual believes they are more focused than they actually are. Another situation is when an individual is extremely focused on a certain action or thought. Gerbasi stated that both circumstances require consciousness.

After this, the jury was dismissed.

Closing arguments will be presented tomorrow morning, September 14, in Department 14.

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

    Based only on the questioning and answers as presented here it is unclear ( at least not mentioned) whether or not Dr. Gerbasi had included the diagnosis of post partum depression in her differential. At 19 days post partum this would have been at the top of my list of possibilities. I would find this a startling commission if it had not at least been considered and although it is not common, has been known to be associated with dissociative states and psychoses.

    This is a problem with the current practice of not allowing people with specialized knowledge to serve on juries pertaining to their area of expertise. In my opinion, this precludes input from people who be able to contribute more factual information to the deliberations of the jury rather than relying on frequently poorly informed ( through no fault of the jurors) opinions.

    1. David Greenwald

      That’s often been my concern – we ask juries to weigh in on decisions that require specific and specialized knowledge. On the other hand, part of the reason you want to preclude that knowledge is that you want all evidence to come in in open court where it can be confronted rather than in the jury room.

      1. Tia Will


        On the other hand, part of the reason you want to preclude that knowledge is that you want all evidence to come in in open court where it can be confronted rather than in the jury room.”

        Agreed if all of the relevant possibilities were fully explored in open court. It seems to me that in this case, a major possible contributing factor has not been brought forward at all unless I have missed the reference.


  2. Delia .

    Sleaze bag boyfriend fathers multiple children but instead of taking care of them in a proper way, continues drug use and promiscuity. Unprotected sexual encounters. Administers meth to an irresponsible mom who should instead be living a clean lifestyle and breastfeeding her newborn. Chaos abounds. Accidental death of sweet baby Justice. Sleaze bag boyfriend has no legal consequences?

    Misogynistic D.A.

    1. hpierce

      Yeah… mother should be found innocent “not guilty” of all charges… guy should be tried and convicted on multiple charges and serve serious time for all his responsibility… got it…

  3. Tia Will


    That may be a problem but the jury can and should only weigh the evidence that is presented to them.”

    I know that is how our system is structured. It is the systemic flaw that I see. There may be reasons for actions on either side in presentation where not every aspect is presented since I do not believe that our system necessarily is centered on justice but many times is centered on “winning”. We have seen the limitations of limited presentation or interpretation of facts as in the Dev situation. If we are going to hold that only the information presented can be discussed then we are saying that all lawyers will be highly knowledgeable in all areas in which they represent clients and that all lawyers will be meticulously thorough in presenting every bit of evidence, and yet we see the contest of trying to suppress evidence by one side or the other on a regular basis.

    Forgive the rant, but it is very frustrating to sit by and believe that a major possibility may not even be being presented for consideration.


    1. David Greenwald

      Tia: The problem is that if you don’t allow both sides to confront the evidence, you’ve created a lack of fairness.  A defendant is entitled under the constitution to be able to hear the evidence them, that means all evidence must come in in open court.  That’s not a flaw of the system, it’s a protection against capricious decisions by the jury.

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