As someone who believes in things like redemption and mercy over punishment, it is nevertheless not difficult to see that the system got the aftermath of the death of 19-day-old Justice Rees wrong – from the failure of the child protection system to the punishment of Samantha Green with a life sentence to the literal slap on the wrist of Frank Rees.
This past week the saga ended with Frank Rees, who last month took a plea deal for involuntary manslaughter, receiving his six-year prison sentence.
While it was not a commentary, Sacramento Bee reporter Darrell Smith nailed the scene with his reporting of the sentencing hearing.
He wrote: “Tuesday’s tense sentencing hearing marked an emotional end to the bizarre, wrenching case that began nearly three years ago with the senseless death of a days-old infant in a chilly, wooded slough; and threw a cold light on the ravages of methamphetamine on families and a small, rural community.
“You can’t read any of the material in this case … and not fundamentally feel in your bones that Baby Justice deserved a lot more than he got in his 19 days,” he quoted Yolo Superior Court Judge Paul Richardson saying and adding some thoughts about the “scourge that is methamphetamine in our county.
“Any semblance of normal responsibility goes out the window,” Judge Richardson continued. “Anyone here who loved Baby Justice needs to keep him in mind.”
But it was through Mr. Smith’s reporting that Randy Green, grandfather of Justice Rees and father of Samantha Green, gains voice. He writes: “But Green’s rage from the podium during his victim statement was wide-ranging, his targets many on Tuesday: Yolo
County child welfare workers who drew up what Green called a ‘backroom deal’ with Rees’ parents for a safety plan to bring an already meth-addicted Justice home from the hospital. Rees’ parents, themselves retired social workers with roughly 60 years’ experience between them, Green said, who failed to protect their grandchild from the dangers under their roof.”
He continues: “And, the prosecutors who pursued and won murder charges against his daughter, but offered a deal to the drug dealer-turned-fiancé who injected her with syringes full of meth mixed with acetone in the days before her fateful journey into the slough.
“One gets a slap on the wrist. Two get no accountability whatsoever. The DA focused on one person only: my daughter. They had their killer,” Mr. Green said in his remarks before Judge Richardson. “Samantha Green is not a murderer.”
Deputy DA Ryan Couzens called the six-year sentence a “just result,” arguing that any attempt to pursue a heavier charge against Mr. Rees was “not legally sustainable.
“We charged the most serious charges justified by the law and the facts,” Mr. Couzens said in remarks to the bench. “We picked the people who were responsible and charged them with the crimes.”
I find his remarks odd, having railed on the DA’s office just yesterday for doing legal contortions to put forth a felony burglary charge when a roommate stole a PlayStation. In a county that will see a sentencing of two young men to effective life without parole sentences for a series of robberies, in a county where a man who conducted a string of burglaries could receive 99 years – the man who supplied a mother with the drugs that killed an innocent 19-day-old baby will be out in just four.
But, as has been so often the case, the absolute number of years Mr. Rees received would not be nearly as hard to swallow were it not for the gross inequity of the system. The mother gets 15 to life while the father is out in just four.
Tia Will, a Vanguard board member and retired physician, has taken the position that the discrepancy in the sentences between the two were completely unjustified.
Follow the plea agreement she would write: “(The) DA’s office chose to charge Samantha Green with second degree murder despite evidence that she could have been suffering from meth induced psychosis and/or post partum psychosis ( which was apparently not even considered) thus getting the harsher sentence while ignoring the fact that in order to have Justice discharged to their care, both parents had to agree to take charge of the care of the infant.”
She asks: “So why the disparity in charging and sentencing ?”
For her, this demonstrates that the DA’s office and perhaps the law itself simply “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.”
His responsibility amounts to only six years – and anything more would not be legally sustainable according to Mr. Couzens, who has never hesitated to throw the books at less deserving defendants – and her responsibility was a life sentence.
Dr. Will sees this ultimately as the bias in the system. Samantha Green had the book thrown at her, Mr. Rees was allowed the opportunity to continue to walk free, continuing his methamphetamine usage, impregnating another woman while using that meth and exposing another child to the horrors of the meth world.
I think Dr. Will has this right and the system has failed everyone, and most particularly Justice Rees. I know the DA’s office wants to somberly pat themselves on the back, but no one gets this right and justice is not served here.
—David M. Greenwald reporting