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…