Sunday Commentary: The System Got the Handling of Justice Rees’ Death Wrong

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

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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

    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.”

    I would have had a lot to say about this, but David has succinctly covered all of my points except one. I am appalled by DA Couzens statement above. I find it a travesty that because heavier charges against Mr. Rees ( who has proven again and again to be a danger to our community) was “not legally sustainable” to then conclude that the disproportionate sentence given to Ms. Green ( who had never before and would likely not in the future represent a danger) was a “just result”.


    1. Howard P

      So, what would “justice” look like?  25-life for the father, time served and rehab for the mother, who was tried and convicted despite,

      evidence that she could have been suffering from meth induced psychosis and/or post partum psychosis ( which was apparently not even considered)

      definitely the mother was as much a victim as the child who didn’t survive a month…

      Equal terms for both, at either end of the spectrum?

      For justice, what should be done about the social workers, medical staff, paternal grandparents who ‘colluded’ to release the child into a dangerous environment?

      What would be justice? A quote conveniently left out of the ‘victim’s statement’ here (Mr Greene), but reported in the Bee, implies that with “prison justice”, the father may not live long enough (or be beaten, raped, etc.) to serve his term or be paroled.  Would that be justice?

      Baby Justice is dead.  An unarguable, and tragic fact.  Nothing will change that.  So he can’t tell us what justice he would seek.  There is no ‘restorative justice’ for him… not on this plane of existence, but there may well be a “higher court”, where, as an innocent, he’s very “good”.  Fully restored, and then some.

      Some folk want revenge/equal treatment for the parents… why not the social workers, medical staff, paternal GP’s to be treated the same?

      What do y’all think is justice in this case?

      I see opinions of what it is not… I see none one what it should be…


  2. Tia Will


    I have definite feelings based on what I see as the most critical aspect of our justice system and that is public safety. I do not see a value in punishment for its own sake. So what are the actual risks to current or potential members of society associated with each of the individuals involved.

    1. Mr. Rees – this man is dangerous. He is a known drug dealer. He does not provide adequately for the children he already has. He is known to have impregnated and provided meth to two women. I believe that he should be incarcerated for the safety of society. I rarely say this, but Mr. Rees has demonstrated his ongoing danger to society. As for length of incarceration, statistically speaking, the risk to society decreases dramatically after age 40 and this might be taken into account. He may need and should receive special housing for his own protection.

    2. Ms. Green – I suspect that she has probably been “punished” sufficiently. Her baby is dead related to an illness whether that illness was addiction or some other affliction. With full treatment and rehabilitation, I believe that she could be returned to our society without significant risk to society with long acting contraception and close monitoring through a period of probation.

    3. The grandparents – they were negligent but I feel that their actions were not intentional, would not be repeated and have also had sufficient “punishment” with the loss of this grandchild.

    4. For the social workers and medical workers involved, I believe that a thorough systems review to determine exactly where the mistakes were made, processes reviewed and re education of both these particular workers and all staff can be implemented so as to prevent similar errors in the future. I know for some of these positions, this has already occurred.

    Obviously nothing will bring back Baby Justice and the best that can come from this is a reduction in the risk of this happening again.

    1. Howard P

      Interesting sense of ‘justice’…

      You gave no concrete examples of what would be ‘justice’ (just generalities), but will need to cogitate on your response… thank you for the response.

      1. Tia Will


        Perhaps I miss understood your question. I provided specifics of how I thought the treatment of each individual/group in question should be handled in order to achieve a just outcome.

        1. Rees – prison until around age 40 or until deemed no longer a danger to society

        2. Green – time served, probation, medical care as appropriate

        3. Grandparents – no action

        4. Medical/social workers – retraining, systems evaluation and change as appropriate ( I cannot comment further on specifics for this group because of HIPPA and special knowledge).

        I did not see these as generalities. Can you give me an example of what you had in mind as a specific?

        1. Howard P

          No, I see this response from you as clear… thank you… fair answer… I may disagree on details, but respect the approach…

          Will bet that the male has a 50-50 chance of surviving his term, at age 40, once the Green family makes sure that the other inmates hear his story.   He (Mr Green) threatened as much (Bee account)… but that would just be collateral damages…

          Even “hardened criminals” have a strong sense of messing with/hurting kids, particularly infants, being abominable.

          The mother will be spared from that, if her likely appeal results in little/no prison time.  I see good grounds for an appeal being sustained as to her sentence (75% level).  The meth influence/post partum thing… only question is how long it takes to file/hear/act on the appeal.

          But in any event, Justice is dead… no justice there.


  3. David Greenwald

    Howard: I know you asked Tia, but to answer your question, I felt like (A) Green’s conviction for 2nd Degree murder was in error.  In her state of mind there is just no way she realized that her actions at the time were grossly indifferent to human life.  She just was not in her right mind.  (B) the gap between Green’s sentence and Rees’ was unjust.  (C) There was no consequence for Yolo County’s mishandling of this case which led to a death of a baby.

  4. Tia Will


    Thanks for taking the time to consider.

    Will bet that the male has a 50-50 chance of surviving his term”

    I do not see vigilante justice as justice at all. I know how tempting it must be, but hope that Ms. Green’s family would not stoop to revenge. Surely we have enough violence in the world without adding more ourselves for vengeance in the mistaken idea that we are serving justice.

    1. Howard P

      I agree… but “it is what it is”… or “what will be, will be”… que sera, sera…

      Ms Green’s family will not go to revenge… but one is on record as saying he’ll seek it from others, on the family’s behalf… not sure if he’ll back off if Ms Green files an appeal, if it is granted, and if she is given time served, and the treatments… one of which

      without significant risk to society with long acting contraception and close monitoring through a period of probation.

      sure sounds like state mandated, indeterminate, forced sterilization… and I’m thinking I’m OK with that… I think Darwin had some damn good theories…

      Given Mr Rees’ reported proclivities, should he be neutered before release? Males can still impregnate women when they (males) are beyond the age of 40… I’d have no problem with him being neutered.

  5. Tia Will


    sure sounds like state mandated, indeterminate, forced sterilization”

    Not at all. What I had in mind was a form of highly effective ( = to sterilization in efficacy) but fully reversible contraception such as the Nexplanon implant or an IUD which could be removed upon successful completion of her program/probation. I do not believed in forced sterilization.

    1. Howard P


      Please understand that as I used the term “indeterminate”, was not suggesting ‘permanent’, at least for her.  Yet, depending on her age, and length of probation, that might indeed equate to ‘permanent’… you understand that, I know… something about ‘biological time clocks’?

      But, I see her as a ‘victim’ (of stupidity, bad choices,  and bad company), both in the past, and to a certain extent, future.  One generally chooses to do meth…

      She also bears responsibility for bad choices… I agree that her sentence is inappropriate… particularly if she truly commits to better choices…


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