Frank Tallieson Rees, father of Justice Rees, the weeks-old infant who died after he was carried by his drug-addled mother into a Knights Landing-area slough in February 2015, pleaded guilty Tuesday to child endangerment, manslaughter and drug charges for his role in his son’s death.
Rees will serve six years in state prison with the plea, announced by Yolo County district attorney’s officials. He was days away from trial in Yolo Superior Court when he accepted the deal.
Rees’ then-fiancée, Justice’s mother Samantha Lee Green, was convicted of second-degree murder by Yolo County jurors in late 2016 in her child’s death and is in state prison.
Prosecutors said Green, high on methamphetamine, took her child into Ridge Cut Slough in an ill-conceived attempt to find her fiancé after the two had fought in Woodland over Frank Rees’ desire to have Green engage in a ménage a trois with him and a female friend who lived in Knights Landing.
Rees left on his own. Green went to the Woodland home they shared with Rees’ parents, gathered up their newborn and made the fateful drive to Knights Landing.
Green emerged from the slough the following afternoon, frantically hailing a neighbor to tell him that her baby was missing and likely dead. Rees had maintained during Green’s criminal proceedings that he only had sought “justice for Justice.”
But at trial, Green’s attorney, Yolo County Public Defender Tracie Olson, argued that Rees doped Green with syringes full of methamphetamine mixed with acetone in the days before she took their child into the slough, and that Green was in a delirium when she wandered into the wetland area.
Justice Rees was a baby born in crisis with a triple-digit fever and meth in his system, according to child welfare reports. The couple, with Frank Rees’ parents and child welfare officials, had crafted a safety plan to keep the baby in his parents’ care.
Searchers found Justice’s lifeless body in the slough weeks later.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon at the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office in Woodland, a portrait of a newborn Justice stood next to a podium, a solemn reminder to a grieving community and the prosecutors who worked the case.
“This is not a happy day,” Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig told reporters. “Baby Justice Rees is dead and nothing will ever bring him back.”
Reisig said the prosecution last year of Green was never the anticipated end to their work, and that investigators and prosecutors had always had their eyes on Frank Rees, calling the prosecution of Rees “very rare and very difficult.”
“We all believed that Frank Rees contributed to the death of Baby Justice that cold night in that slough in Yolo County,” Reisig said.
The case against Rees went into overdrive in February of this year, days after what would have been Justice’s second birthday and days before the anniversary of the infant’s death. Rees and his new girlfriend – then eight months pregnant – were arrested on suspicion of possessing and using methamphetamine.
“We know how that movie ends,” said supervising Yolo County Deputy District Attorney Rob Gorman, who prosecuted the case with fellow supervising deputy Ryan Couzens. “It ends with the death of possibly another child.”
Reisig said a judge was prepared to accept the evidence from the February arrest at trial, adding that the judge’s ruling likely hastened Rees’ decision to take the plea deal.
“Ultimately, it was the evidence that we received that Frank Rees was providing methamphetamine to a new woman who was pregnant that triggered our decision to file. It was the right decision,” Reisig said. “And today, Baby Justice can hopefully rest in peace.”