Crime - Sacto 911

Yolo County baby may have died from drowning or hypothermia, autopsy shows

Yolo County investigators prepare to leave the scene where the lifeless body of 20-day-old Justice Rees was found Wednesday morning. County sheriff’s and coroner’s spokesman Capt. Larry Cecchettini said the baby’s body was “located in a thicket of brush right off the slough.”
Yolo County investigators prepare to leave the scene where the lifeless body of 20-day-old Justice Rees was found Wednesday morning. County sheriff’s and coroner’s spokesman Capt. Larry Cecchettini said the baby’s body was “located in a thicket of brush right off the slough.” hamezcua@sacbee.com

Preliminary autopsy results say 20-day-old Justice Rees, whose tiny body was found Wednesday at a remote slough near Knights Landing, may have drowned or died of hypothermia.

In an interview Thursday, Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto said authorities have no evidence the infant was a victim of homicide.

It remains a mystery why the baby’s mother, Samantha Green, 23, wound up screaming hysterically for help near the Ridge Cut Slough on Tuesday, three days after failing to show up at a party where she was to bring her newborn for a visit with family members.

Prieto said detectives believe Green drove her own car to the slough area with Justice – and no one else – traveling with her. The mother didn’t seem to know the reason why she was there, he said.

“I’ll tell you it is a whodunit right now,” Prieto said. “All we know is the child was with her. There is no else with her.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, Green made a panicked 911 call from the remote slough in Yolo County. Sheriff’s deputies found her, scratched and bruised, in a backyard near the slough. She was wet and crying for help. Her car was found parked near the opposite end of the slough, past deep thickets of brush and trees. Authorities said the distraught woman told them she had a baby but didn’t know where he was.

Nearly 17 hours later, deputies in a patrol boat found the body of Justice in thick brush near the Ridge Cut Slough on Wednesday morning.

Family members told reporters Wednesday and again Thursday that they believe Green was a victim of an abduction and physical abuse. But Prieto said authorities so far have turned up no evidence of that being the case.

“We’re looking into it. We have not substantiated any of that,” he said. “But (anything) the family comes up with or anyone comes up with, we are looking into it. There will be no stone unturned.”

Six Yolo County sheriff’s detectives have been assigned to the case in addition to investigators for the county District Attorney’s Office and Woodland Police Department, which took a missing person’s report Monday from Green’s sister and mother.

Prieto said autopsy results Thursday showed the baby could have drowned or died from “exposure due to cold air or cold water.”

However, he said, “We are definitely not calling this a homicide. Definitely not. The baby was healthy in appearance and had no signs of injury and abuse.”

Prieto said Justice, who was clothed, had minor scratches on his upper chest and head. He said additional tests were to be performed to determine any contents in the baby’s lungs or stomach.

Earlier Thursday, Yolo sheriff’s spokesman Capt. Larry Cecchettini said Green had “scratching and bruising” that could be consistent with her having ventured through thick brush “down to that levee in the area where the baby was found.”

Samantha Green’s father, Randy Green, 50, of Sacramento said in an interview that he believes his “daughter was abducted and she was assaulted.” He said the family has given the name of an alleged assailant to authorities. But the Sheriff’s Department has said there are no suspects in the case.

After Justice’s disappearance, the child’s father put out a Facebook post indicating he thought the baby had been the victim of a kidnapping.

Frank Rees of Woodland, who couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday, posted that he had $5,000 to pay to anyone who knew where the child was. “He is our son and I will trade my life for his if need be,” his post said. “We can keep it public or private. Up to you. I will kill and die for any child you don’t want to know what I’ll do for my own.”

Before Samantha Green, his fiancée, turned up, Frank Rees also put out a post expressing his worry for her well-being.

“If anyone sees Samantha Green my beautiful fiancee please tell her that EVERYONE is worried sick about her and Justice. We love you Samantha. Just come home babe. I miss you and our son soooooo much. Whatever it is you want different we can fix. I love you momma.”

Green and her new baby had been living at the Woodland home of her fiancé’s mother, Patty Rees, along with Frank Rees and four of his children from a previous relationship.

On Thursday, Patty Rees said her son and the other children were staying with other relatives – and grieving over baby Justice’s death.

“It’s just so hard,” she said, answering the door at her home. “They know and they’re upset,” she said of the other children.

Randy Green, who said he hasn’t seen his daughter since she was found Tuesday, said Samantha Green was released from the hospital Wednesday and has been interviewed by authorities. He said Samantha’s sister, Aissa Green, visited her and reported that Samantha emotionally “is not in a good place right now.”

“I am hoping to talk to her real soon,” Randy Green said. “It’s just terrible. It is gut-wrenching for us.”

Call The Bee’s Peter Hecht, (916) 326-5539.

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