by 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.