Frank Rees had never been charged in connection with his infant son’s death two years ago, though Yolo County investigators had focused on the Woodland dad’s role almost from the time baby Justice Rees’ body was recovered from a Knights Landing-area slough.
“Frank Rees was actively investigated by sheriff’s investigators at the outset. We have continued to investigate and look at factors in this case,” Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig told reporters Wednesday.
But it was the trove of evidence at his former fiancée’s murder trial and Rees’ drug arrest with his then-pregnant girlfriend on suspicion of methamphetamine possession led prosecutors to file charges against Rees in Justice’s death.
Justice’s mother, Samantha Green, was convicted in September of second-degree murder in their baby’s death. She is serving a sentence of 15 years to life in prison.
“The discussion about Rees’ culpability in this case has been ongoing since Day 1,” Reisig said at a late-morning news conference in Woodland announcing felony charges of involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment and administering of a controlled substance against the Woodland man, adding that evidence at Green’s trial was a “significant factor in our decision.”
Rees is being held at Yolo County jail in lieu of $500,000 bail and will be arraigned Thursday in Yolo Superior Court.
A meth-addled Green had wandered overnight with the 19-day-old baby in an ill-fated attempt to look for Rees, who left alone for Knights Landing after an argument with Green at a Woodland gas station over a planned sexual liaison with a female friend of his. Green emerged crying and screaming from Ridge Cut Slough and flagged someone down to say her baby was missing and likely dead.
Searchers found Justice on Feb. 25, 2015, still clad in the onesie he wore when Green packed him up at the Woodland home she and Rees shared with his parents. Medical examiners said exposure to the elements due to neglect caused the baby’s death.
Rees took the witness stand at Green’s trial, offering emotional testimony of when Green told him their son died in the woods and brush of a chilly Ridge Cut Slough, recalling that he felt as if “my whole world would come crashing down on me.”
But defense experts testified that Rees injected veterinary syringes full of a methamphetamine and acetone cocktail into Green in the days before she set out for the slough with her newborn, triggering apocalyptic thoughts, hallucinations and, ultimately, psychosis.
The claims were the basis for the allegation of administering a controlled substance, Reisig said. His announcement came a day after investigators armed with a warrant took the 31-year-old Rees into custody.
The news of new, lesser manslaughter charges against Rees was angrily met by Green’s father, Randy Green, outside the District Attorney’s Office.
“It’s just ironic that (prosecutors) wait until my daughter is convicted before they bring charges against Frank Rees, knowing that, if they knew what was happening with Frank Rees, then (the verdict against Green) might have been involuntary manslaughter,” he said. “I’m not saying my daughter’s innocent. She’s guilty and she’s where she needs to be. But 15 years to life? Not at all.”
Randy Green said Rees should have been tried side-by-side with Green’s daughter and said many more people share blame for his grandson’s death, including the Roseville hospital where Green gave birth, county child welfare workers and Rees’ parents, who, he said, allowed the couple to continue to use drugs during their baby’s short life.
Justice was born with a triple-digit fever and with traces of meth in his system, according to child welfare reports. Samantha Green had used methamphetamine in the days before Justice’s birth and had been forbidden to breastfeed her newborn lest she pass the drug in her milk.
But, Rees’ parents, along with the doomed couple, had crafted a “safety plan” with the help of child welfare workers to bring the baby home.
“They made a deal with CPS that they would watch over my grandson,” Randy Green said. “They had a responsibility and an agreement with CPS and they violated that agreement and it partially caused the death of my grandson.”