Commentary: Was Justice Really Served Here?

District Attorney Jeff Reisig was quick to state, “This is not a happy day. Baby Justice Rees is dead and nothing with bring him back.” But he said that “this is a day where justice has finally prevailed.

But has justice prevailed?  Leaving aside the tragedy of this case which will never be remedied, there are a number of troubling aspects to both prosecutions that leave many questions and much to be desired.

We certainly agree with Mr. Reisig who stated that, from the beginning, the team of prosecutors and investigators on this case “believed that Frank Rees was culpable in some way for the death of Baby Justice.”

He later added, “We all believed that Frank Rees contributed to the events that led to the death of Baby Justice that cold night in that slough in Yolo County.”

But in the end the we wonder why Samantha Green, convicted of second degree murder, will serve 15 to life while Frank Rees will serve a maximum of six years, and likely could be out in as few as four (given that he has already spent around nine months, with custody and conduct credits bumping that to nearly 18 months before he even sets foot in a state prison).

As my board member and colleague Tia Will pointed out, sure, Ms. Green made the decision to take the baby to the slough, but it is clear that she was suffering from a number of ailments including methamphetamine
psychosis and, Dr. Will believes, potentially postpartum depression.

Public Defender Tracie Olson called the jury verdict “the most unfounded… that I’ve seen.  Voluntary manslaughter is the correct decision.”

Ironically, that is about what Frank Rees gets in this case.  While it was Samantha Green who, in some foggy mental state, thought the way to get Frank Rees back into her life was to go into the slough, it was Frank Rees who dosed her with veterinary-size syringes of methamphetamine mixed with acetone in the days before their son’s death, and who left the baby with the mother, even though he acknowledged her inability to care for him.

Many believe that there is sexism at play with the differential in assigned responsibility, and they argue if Ms. Green had known the probable consequences of her actions – then Mr. Rees did too and that administering drugs to an already mentally frayed new mother, combined with abandoning the baby with said mother, are actions every bit as irresponsible as that of the mother’s.

As Dr. Will puts it, “It would appear that the DA’s office believes that the care of an infant should by default be in the mother’s hands, even though Mr. Rees clearly stated at the time that he left the home to go have sexual relations with yet another woman, he knew that Ms. Green was not in a fit mental state to care for the infant, because of the multiple doses of meth which he had administered to her.”

While some of this discrepancy can be explained by the nature of the plea bargaining system, the reality is that the DA charged Ms. Green with murder-2 which contains an automatic 15 to life sentence – while initially charging Mr. Rees with voluntary manslaughter (which is what Ms. Olson felt was the appropriate charge for Ms. Green) before pleading it down further to involuntary manslaughter.

You can certainly argue that justice prevailed in the sense that Baby Justice’s parents are being punished for their mistakes, but the inequity of the system at the very least calls that into question.

The DA’s office was questioned and criticized for the delay between the prosecution of Samantha Green and the prosecution of Frank Rees.  DA Jeff Reisig attempted to explain that delay.

He explained, “We carefully reviewed all of the evidence in this case. We carefully reviewed all of the evidence that was presented in the trial of Samantha Green. And we carefully reviewed the law and legal precedent that exists that would support successful prosecution.”

Ultimately, he explained, it was evidence that Frank Rees was providing methamphetamine to a new woman who was pregnant “that triggered our decision to file. We simply could not wait any longer. It was the right decision. And hopefully Baby Justice can finally rest in peace.”

Supervising Deputy DA Rob Gorman would add that once they received the information that Mr. Rees had a girlfriend who was eight months pregnant “we know how that movie ends. It ends in the death of possibly another child.”

The question is why they didn’t simply arrest Mr. Rees and charge him in the death of his child at the same time as Samantha Green.  After all, they had the evidence at that time that Mr. Rees dosed Ms. Green with meth and turned the child over to her.

Unfortunately, no one asked the tough questions at the press conference.

We get it – these are hard cases.  As Mr. Gorman put it, “A child who is killed, especially the way that little baby passed away, it’s awful.”  The prosecution and investigation team were comprised of people who are parents and this is a difficult case for a parent to sort though.

However, at the same time, we need to objectively assess the facts of the case.  At the end of the day, I believe that the system failed Justice Rees first by allowing the baby, despite multiple red flags, to be discharged to the care of his parents and then by allowing him to remain in their care despite the continuation of these red flags.

And then we attempt to make up for this by overcharging the mother while undercharging the father.  Is this what justice looks like?  I tend to think not.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Come see the Vanguard Event – “In Search of Gideon” – which highlights some of the key work performed by the Yolo County Public Defender’s Office…

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

    Thanks for the article David. Just one point of clarification. While Ms. Green might well have been suffering from post partum depression, my bigger concern is that she might also have been suffering from a distinct and very rare condition called post partum psychosis. This is a full blown psychotic disorder complete with hallucinations in some cases including hearing voices directing the individuals to behave in an irrational manner. To the best of my knowledge, this possibility was not presented to the jurors as an alternative explanation for Ms. Green’s irrational behavior that led to the death of baby Justice.

  2. Eric Gelber

    To the best of my knowledge, this possibility was not presented to the jurors as an alternative explanation for Ms. Green’s irrational behavior that led to the death of baby Justice.

    Perhaps because there was no psychiatric expert who was of the opinion that the diagnosis applied?

  3. Howard P

    Medical/Social service : It was suspected that both Ms.Green and Mr. Rees had been using meth and in her case were on meth near the time of delivery. It was suspected by nursing staff that they were both using during the post partum period. It was known that baby Justice was had meth withdrawal symptoms. It was known to the discharge readiness assessment social service worker that Mr. Rees had shown disinterest in the birth, the baby, and the adequate provision for his older children witnessed by his statement that “he did not have time to access social service benefits for them” ( paraphrased). Despite these multiple red flags, baby Justice was discharged home to the care of his parents. Please note “parents” plural, not just his mother.

    Please note that perhaps the Grand Jury should look at charges against the medical and social services folk involved… failure to act on suspicions, and known facts seems to breach ethical, moral, professional, and perhaps legal tenets… putting aside the parents’ respective roles (seem like some would have the mother skate and the father do the time), it seems like the medical and social services folk were “enablers”, and they should be held to a higher standard, due to their training, licenses, etc.

    1. Tia Will


      I have reason to believe ( although no proof that I can share) that corrective actions have occurred on both the medical and social service aspects of this case. I believe that these likely did not rise to the legal or ethical levels but were more likely questionable judgment calls and the result of high case loads. It is tempting to want someone to be punished when a tragedy like this occurs. I believe that the goals should be first, protection of the community, and thus my outrage over the relatively delayed and minor sequestration of Mr. Rees, secondly prevention of similar events in the future which I feel is best addressed by a systemic review of systems and processes rather than a punitive individual approach. Just my opinion based on 30 + years of experience in the field.

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