Samantha Green was charged Friday with murder in the death of her newborn son, replacing a lesser manslaughter charge she faced last week after a judge rejected defense claims that Green was the target of vindictive prosecution.
Green, 23, pleaded not guilty to the new charge in Yolo Superior Court and is now being held without bail.
Yolo County prosecutors said Friday in a Woodland courtroom that they obtained new evidence between last week’s arraignment and when they filed their request Tuesday to pursue a murder charge. Green pleaded not guilty at the time to involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment charges and was held in lieu of $250,000 bail. Green had faced up to 12 years in prison had she been convicted of the lesser charges.
That scenario changed dramatically with Friday’s ruling. Facing a murder charge in her infant son’s death, a shackled Green bowed her head, hair obscuring her face, sighed deeply, then fought back tears as Yolo Superior Court Judge David Rosenberg announced his decision.
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Green’s defense attorneys argued that the switch to a harsher charge was a case of vindictive prosecution and that prosecutors had failed to explain what the new evidence entailed. Green’s attorneys on Monday had asked for a hearing Friday to consider a change of plea for their client. Prosecutors countered on Tuesday, filing a motion to replace the manslaughter count with the murder allegation.
The move angered Green’s attorneys, who on Friday scoffed at the timing of the district attorney’s motion and demanded prosecutors provide evidence supporting the new charge.
“Ms. Green exercised her procedural rights and prosecutors have upped the ante,” said Yolo County Deputy Public Defender Dave Muller. “What new evidence do they have? When did they receive it? Who did they receive it from and why didn’t they tell the defense?”
Supervising Deputy District Attorney Rob Gorman defended the timing of the murder filing, saying evidence against Green developed in the days following her arraignment.
“I can see where the timing seems suspicious, but this was not something we did as a (result) of a change of plea. This was something that was in the works,” Gorman said. “We have received information we believe warrants the charge of murder. We believe the evidence is sufficient to charge and convict Ms. Green of murder.”
Gorman would not disclose the new information, but said he told Green’s defense team that new allegations could emerge with investigators’ ongoing probe into Justice Rees’ death.
“We explained what the charges were and made clear that there was an ongoing investigation and that the charges could change,” Gorman said.
Rosenberg ultimately allowed prosecutors to amend their original complaint to replace involuntary manslaughter with murder, referring to the continuing investigation.
“This does not rise to a vindictive prosecution,” Rosenberg said. “It appears to be a somewhat complicated case with an ongoing investigation.”
When Green was arrested in February, authorities indicated that she would face a murder charge. But less than an hour before Green’s arraignment last week, prosecutors said they were seeking charges of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment with an enhancement for infliction of great bodily injury on a child during the commission of a felony.
Green’s frantic 911 call from a Knights Landing backyard Feb. 24 launched a search for her missing son. The next day, Feb. 25, searchers found Justice’s dead body near Rough Cut Slough, 20 days after his birth.
Preliminary autopsy results indicated that Justice may have died by drowning or hypothermia. But an official autopsy report has yet to be filed.
Justice had methamphetamine in his system at birth, prompting a Child Protective Services review, according to a statement from his paternal grandmother, Patricia Rees. Justice’s father, Frank Rees, and Green were allowed to take their son home after testing drug-free and agreeing on a safety plan that involved the boy’s grandparents, Patricia Rees said.
Yolo County officials said Thursday they will not release a social services file on Green and her son because the criminal investigation into his death is ongoing.
Call The Bee’s Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.