By Novpreet Shoker
Both the defense and prosecution wrapped up evidence and testimony in the case against Frank Rees. However, the court has requested written briefs on the law by June 23 with a ruling expected at the next court appearance on July 6.
This past Friday the trial for Frank Rees resumed as both counsel questioned a witness about the events that led up to 19-day-old Justice Rees’ death, over two years ago in February of 2015. The district attorney’s office filed charges against Rees this past February, and Rees is in Yolo County’s custody with bail set at $500, 000. The charges he faces include involuntary manslaughter, child abuse/endangerment, and drug charges.
The hearing resumed after lunch with the defense counsel cross-examining an officer who was involved with the case of baby Justice’s death. During questioning, the defense had the witness verify that the baby’s mother, Samantha Green, used methamphetamine about two to three times on the day of the incident, and that once she was arrested as a suspect, Green tried several times to negotiate her release in exchange for her “truthful” testimony.
The defense also asked the witness to explain the multiple false stories Green came up with in order to appear as the victim in the situation. The witness proceeded to explain that Green came up with several stories that were all later disproved, from claiming she had been sexually assaulted, to having been kidnapped, to she was saving Frank Rees from being killed.
Green was convicted, just last year in September, of 2nd degree murder for baby Justice’s death.
The officer was then asked to recount the morning of the incident. He summarized that Samantha Green and Frank Rees took separate cars early in the morning to do several errands around Woodland. The witness explained that Rees, after cashing a check and putting gas in both cars, propositioned to Green a threesome with another woman he knew from Knights Landing.
Counsel asked if the baby was with Green at this time, and the witness clarified that the baby was always with Green, including that morning.
After hearing Rees’ proposition, Green became upset, an argument ensued and she left him to go back home. Rees proceeded to go to Knights Landing.
Green lived in the Rees’ household, along with Rees, their baby Justice, Rees’ parents, and Rees’ four other children. The witness explained that Green, after being at the house for less than an hour or so, decided to go back to Rees and make up.
Based on this, the defense asked why Green took Justice instead of leaving the baby with Rees’ parents. The witness explained that it was Samantha’s personal choice. The defense also asked if Green was coerced into any of her actions thus far, to which the witness answered that Green was acting on her own will.
The witness also confirmed that Green had recently inquired about a life insurance policy for her son.
During redirect, Deputy District Attorneys Rob Gorman and Ryan Couzens asked the witness about Rees’ history, to which the witness mentioned that Rees was caught drunk in his vehicle, with his other four children in the backseat, in early 2015. The prosecution also asked if Rees had been unfaithful to Green, and the witness explained that Rees was having an affair with the woman in Knights Landing and Green had suspicions, but nothing was actually confirmed until after the fact.
The People also asked about Justice’s paternal grandparents, and what their role was that day. The witness responded that the Reeses supported Frank and Samantha, but “they were basically in denial” about the couple’s habitual drug use.
The prosecution then asked the witness why Rees did not report Green and his baby missing, or actively search for either of them. The witness said that Rees explained he did not want to give Green the satisfaction of noticing she was gone, as in whether he cared about where she was.
The defense then had a few more questions for the witness. Counsel asked if Green had admitted using meth, to which the witness answered yes.
At this point the hearing proceeded with several questions from both sides as well as from Judge Paul K. Richardson, in order to clarify some confusion about the Rees’ location in Knights Landing.
After some explanation, the witness went on to elaborate that Green had sent a text message to Rees telling him she was returning, but he received it nearly 40 minutes later. During that time, Green had already reached 9th Street in Knights Landing, the address Rees had previously given her that morning. Once she could not find Rees’ vehicle, she parked her van at the end of the street’s cul-de-sac, and left it there.
The People then asked the witness where Rees really was while Green was searching for him. The witness answered that Rees was with the other woman in his vehicle, parked somewhere north of Highway 113 outside of Knights Landing.
Judge Richardson then asked if there was a reason for Green abandoning her car on 9th Street. The witness explained that no one really knows why Green chose to do that, and that her testimony has been very blurred and hazy in general, insinuating that there may never be a real way of knowing.
The defense then asked the witness where baby Justice was at that point. The witness replied that Justice was still with Green, even after she abandoned the car.
At this point, the officer mentioned that, based off how many times he spoke with Green after the baby’s death, he recognized that Green wanted a happy and united family – Frank, Samantha and baby Justice.
The witness was then dismissed.
Judge Richardson and both sides of counsel then figured out the details of the case’s stipulations. They discussed baby Justice’s congenital heart disease, the temperatures of the air and water the night Green and Justice spent in the Ridge Cut Slough and in Knights Landing, and the medical records of drug tests for pre- and post-natal care.
Baby Justice died from “physiological stress under unfavorable exposure of the environment.”
After stipulations, the court decided to proceed with arguments from both sides.
The prosecution began by explaining that Rees and Green began their relationship sexually, and Green became pregnant right away. During her pregnancy, Green moved into the Rees’ home, and consumed THC and methamphetamines with Rees regularly. Baby Justice was born with a high fever and positive for meth. He was then placed into the neonatal intensive care unit.
Child Protective Services did get involved, but their role was generally ineffective and the child was returned home.
The prosecution explained that, during the course of their relationship, Green was desperate for Rees to be committed to her and to reciprocate her feelings. However, Rees was a mean and manipulative partner, and an extremely uninvolved father.
Despite this, the People claimed that when it comes to baby Justice’s death, “the father is responsible as well.”
According to them, Frank Rees “set a chain of events in motion that led to the baby’s death,” and allowed for Justice to be “put in great bodily harm.”
They closed their argument by stating that “the liability for that death does not begin and end with Samantha Green. Frank Rees is responsible as well.”
The defense began by pointing out that this case was worth disregarding because the prosecution brought the case two years too late. If Frank Rees was going to prosecuted for baby Justice’s death, the charges should have been filed in 2015, alongside Samantha Green. There is no new evidence that could have brought on this case at this time.
The defense noted Rees’ actions, but argued that “that is not a crime – that is deplorable conduct.”
The defense explained that, because of their regular drug use, there was no way Rees could have anticipated baby Justice’s death, and it was essentially “not foreseeable.”
Counsel continued to explain that Green’s actions are what directly resulted in baby Justice’s death, and, for Rees to be held responsible, his actions must be seen as “substantial and significant” – and that is not the case in this situation.
Samantha Green’s actions were conscious and of her own accord, the defense argued. “You have to hold individual persons responsible for individual conduct.”
Counsel continued to emphasize Green’s actions as the sole contributing factor to baby Justice’s death by arguing that she could have left the baby behind with his grandparents if she was so set on confronting Rees about his affair.
The defense ended their argument by pointing out that, because Rees was not an involved father, there was no liability. He had no actual custody control over baby Justice.
After this preliminary case was presented in full, Judge Richardson decided the court would reconvene on July 6 at 10 a.m. for his ruling.