Ricardo Villasenor had just finished mowing the lawn behind his Knights Landing home, which hugged Ridge Cut Slough, when he heard screaming in the distance, then a yell for help.
Villasenor grabbed his keys, jumped in his truck and found Samantha Lee Green, the woman behind the scream, on the levee road, bruised, bloodied and barefoot, her lips purple from the cold.
“She said she was kidnapped and ‘My baby’s dead. My baby’s dead. It froze last night,’ ” Villasenor told a hushed Woodland courtroom Friday about that cold February day in 2015.
Friday marked the first day of testimony in Green’s murder trial in Yolo Superior Court before Judge David Rosenberg. It was a day in which jurors heard Villasenor’s 911 call for help before he passed the phone for Green’s sobbing account to a Yolo County sheriff’s dispatcher that her newborn son was missing and likely dead.
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I don’t know what happened. I’m badly hurt. I can’t walk. I’ve got bruises all over my body.
Samantha Green, to a 911 dispatcher, according to a recording of the call played in Yolo Superior Court
Green, 24, stands accused of murder in the death of her son, 19-day-old Justice Rees, found dead by searchers Feb. 25, 2015. She remains held without bail in Yolo County custody. Testimony continues Monday.
Green sat quietly, occasionally dabbing at tears, next to her attorney, Yolo County Public Defender Tracie Olson, with her parents watching from the gallery.
Defense attorneys say Green did not intend to kill her newborn son. Prosecutors say her actions put Justice Rees in harm’s way and rose to the level of a murder charge.
“I don’t know what happened. I’m badly hurt. I can’t walk. I’ve got bruises all over my body,” Green’s voice was heard telling the dispatcher.
“Where’s the baby?” the dispatcher asked.
“He died,” Green cried out. “It was so cold.” The dispatcher asked again for the infant’s location.
“I don’t know,” Green said, her voice hoarse from crying. “I have no idea.”
Yolo County sheriff’s searchers found little Justice Rees’ onesie-clothed body the following morning in the Knights Landing-area slough amid trees and thick brush.
Justice was 19 days old. It was Green’s 23rd birthday.
The days that led to Baby Justice’s death were initially shrouded in mystery. Justice’s paternal grandmother, Patricia Rees, said previously that the baby was born with methamphetamine in his system. Child welfare workers had allowed Justice to go home with his parents after they tested free of drugs and agreed to a safety plan that involved Justice’s grandparents.
Green had failed to show for a weekend gathering with her newborn son, worrying her family and extended family. That Monday, Feb. 23, family members called Woodland police to report Green and baby were missing.
Green’s sister took to social media, issuing pleas on Facebook for information on her whereabouts.
Her fiancé, Justice’s father, Frank Tallieson Rees – who later would find trouble with Yolo County authorities on drug charges unrelated to Justice’s death – told his mother that Green had been abducted and issued his own Facebook plea: “We love you Samantha. Just come home.”
Then came Green’s frantic screams for help for her baby missing somewhere in Ridge Cut Slough, her claims that she had been kidnapped and Villasenor’s call to 911.
Investigators would later tell a different story culled from interviews with Green and Rees.
She was very emotional. She told me her baby had just died. When she said that, I couldn’t understand that myself.
Ricardo Villasenor, about Samantha Green, accused in the death of her infant, Justice Rees
Rees and Green had planned to meet a female friend in Knights Landing on Feb. 24, but Rees left for Knights Landing alone after the two argued at a Woodland gas station, investigators said at Green’s preliminary hearing last November.
Investigators said Green went back to the Woodland home she shared with Rees and his parents, picked up Justice, then drove out for Knights Landing to find Rees, only to wander out onto the slough where she passed out, Justice by her side. Green awakened, investigators said, to find her newborn unresponsive.
Green then scrambled through the thick brush and swam the slough before reaching the levee road and Villasenor.
“She was scared, cold, frightened, confused. She told me her baby froze, but I didn’t understand,” Villasenor testified Friday on questioning from Green’s attorney. “She was very emotional. She told me her baby had just died. When she said that, I couldn’t understand that myself.”