Samantha Green was convicted of second-degree murder Friday in the death of little Justice Rees, with the jurors’ verdict ending a saga of drugs and dysfunction that left her infant son dead and his mother on the road to prison.
The verdict in a packed Woodland courtroom came three days after the trial’s final image: a hobbling, shivering Green captured on a police cruiser’s dashboard camera after climbing out of Ridge Cut Slough howling in grief for 19-day-old Justice. Searchers recovered Justice on Feb. 25, 2015 – Green’s 24th birthday – in the slough’s woods near Knights Landing.
She went into that water and came out the other side, taking that baby out there when it was 30-some degrees outside ... She didn’t care that her baby was in danger when she was looking for Frank. She crashed and when she woke up, her baby was dead.
Yolo County Deputy District Attorney Rob Gorman
“I love my baby. Why?” Green moaned in the recording. “I just want my baby,” she cried. “He doesn’t deserve this.”
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The Woodland mother, 25, sobbed again Friday as the guilty verdict was read before Yolo Superior Court Judge David Rosenberg, then cast an anguished look at her family in the gallery before being led away by bailiffs. Green’s sentencing before Rosenberg is set for Nov. 1 in Yolo Superior Court. She faces 15 years to life in prison.
“It’s a tragic case. This little baby didn’t deserve to die,” said Yolo County Deputy District Attorney Rob Gorman.
Visibly upset, Yolo County Public Defender Tracie Olson declined comment following the verdict.
The bizarre story on Feb. 24, 2015, of a distraught Green emerging from the rural slough a day after being reported missing to say she had been kidnapped and her baby was likely dead of exposure triggered first a frantic search, then a grim recovery effort and, finally, a murder investigation that shocked Yolo County and grabbed headlines.
Jurors on Friday bypassed a possible verdict of involuntary manslaughter, swayed by prosecutors’ arguments that Green caused Justice’s death by wandering with her newborn into the slough on that frigid February night in a jealous, meth-addled attempt to find then-fiancé Frank Rees. The trial started Aug. 15.
The hardest thing she will ever see is her son dead. The hardest thing she’ll have to do is live with the fact that he is gone.
Yolo County Public Defender Tracie Olson
“This case is about ‘Why?’ Why did Samantha Green take Baby Justice out to that slough and swim in 55-degree water when she was yards from help and a mile from her car?” Gorman asked Yolo Superior Court jurors during his closing argument Wednesday.
“The ‘why?’ is obvious,” Gorman continued. “The ‘why’ is jealousy – meth-fueled jealousy” of Green toward Rees and his ongoing sexual relationships with other women after Green gave birth to Justice, Gorman said.
Rees, who took the witness stand at trial and sat quietly in the front row of Rosenberg’s courtroom as the verdict was read before quickly departing, was a central figure in the defense case. Rees has not been charged in connection with Justice’s death.
Rees was depicted by Green defense attorney Olson and defense experts as a womanizing, meth-addicted, paranoid ex-convict who wielded intense control over Green first as her drug connection, then as the father of her child.
He humiliated Green with open sexual liaisons and repeated requests that she join him for three- and four-way sex, Olson argued. He also dosed Green with veterinary-size syringes of methamphetamine mixed with acetone in the days before their son’s death, Olson argued.
“If there’s no meth, Samantha’s not out in the slough,” Olson said in her closing argument. “If there’s no Frank, Samantha’s not out in that slough.”
But jurors on Friday were blunt in their assessment of Rees’ role in the infant’s death.
“Frank Rees wasn’t on trial here. (Green) is the only person on trial,” said juror David Nevarez of Davis following the verdict. “We looked at the circumstances and after a lot of deliberation and discussion, we came to a consensus.”
Nevarez said the case was “difficult,” adding that jurors went through the evidence “point by point, little by little. ... It’s very sad, very sad.”
Defense experts testified the massive drug doses triggered in Green a meth-induced psychosis that sent the Woodland mom into the slough, then across its chilly waters to dry land with her child before she passed out from the drugs and cold. Green awoke to find her lifeless son, still wearing his onesie, by her side.
Olson argued Green was responsible for her newborn son’s death, but said she was not a murderer. She instead described a mother who loved her son in spite of her addiction and her story of a kidnapping “a desperate attempt to make sense out of the senseless.”
“She awoke to find her baby dead at her side. Her complete memory is not intact. She has a hope that someone else is responsible. Her son is gone,” Olson said. “The hardest thing she will ever see is her son dead. The hardest thing she’ll have to do is live with the fact that he is gone.”
But prosecutors argued that Green’s jealousy of Frank Rees had grown, illustrated in tearful profanity-filled phone calls to Rees that confronted him about his affairs and a recorded interview with a detective after her release from Woodland Memorial Hospital about her fateful trip to Knights Landing.
“I put two and two together. He was still trying to kick it with her,” Green is heard saying on the interview video. “He left me out there with his son. ... He is the devil.”
The final straw for Green was Rees’ broaching of a threesome with a female friend of his in Knights Landing on Feb. 23 and the argument at a Woodland gas station that followed before Rees left for Knights Landing alone to meet the other woman, Gorman argued.
Hours later, Green, high on methamphetamine, left for Knights Landing to find Rees and his female friend, before returning to Woodland.
There, Green grabbed Justice, her purse, packed a diaper bag and headed back for Knights Landing where she again looked for Rees and the woman, before making the final, fatal decision to wander into the slough. She parked her car where Rees could see it and left the diaper bag on the slough’s shore hoping that Rees would find it and look for her, Gorman said.
“When Frank didn’t come for her, she stayed out in that slough until her baby was dead,” Gorman told jurors.
Later, he argued that Green swam across the frigid slough holding her child above the water, but never tried to seek rescue even though they were mere football fields away from homes, help and Highway 113.
“She went out to that levee. She went into that water and came out the other side, taking that baby out there when it was 30-some degrees outside,” Gorman said. “This was a 19-day-old baby who was completely helpless and whose mother was intoxicated on methamphetamine. She didn’t care that her baby was in danger when she was looking for Frank. She crashed and when she woke up, her baby was dead.”