Killer of baby gets probation, rehab

Ariel Zoey Lee

By Larry Judkins

Glenn County Observer

Is this justice?

Joshua Lee, convicted of killing his two-month, 22-day-old daughter, was sentenced on Friday, Sept. 2, to four years’ probation, 180 days in a substance abuse rehabilitation facility, a 52-week program for child abusers, drug court, and anger management and mental health counseling.

When Lee was first arrested on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, he was booked into the Glenn County Jail on charges alleging willful cruelty to a child resulting in possible injury or death, and voluntary manslaughter (both felonies). The maximum sentence for this latter crime is 11 years in prison.

The Glenn County District Attorney originally charged him with assault of a child under the age of eight, producing great bodily injury resulting in death. The maximum sentence for this crime is 25 years to life in prison.

On Friday, July 15, 2022, Lee pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter. The maximum sentence for this crime is four years in prison – seven years less than the maximum sentence for voluntary manslaughter and 21 years less than the maximum sentence for assault of a child under the age of eight, producing great bodily injury resulting in death.

But Lee didn’t even receive the maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter.

Again: Is this justice?

At about 3:20 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, the Glenn County Sheriff’s Office dispatch center received a 911 call from the 100 block of West Sycamore Street in Willows regarding a two-month-old girl who was not breathing. The caller said CPR was in progress.

The office of The Sacramento Valley Mirror is also located in the 100 block of West Sycamore Street – 138 West Sycamore to be precise. That afternoon, the staff of The Mirror was busy working on the final pages of the Saturday edition of the paper and was not paying attention to the transmissions on the police scanner.

Then, two Mirror staff members heard a commotion and stood up to look outside. Thinking there was some kind of physical fight going on, Larry Judkins, at the time a 26-year associate of The Valley Mirror, grabbed his camera and stepped outside.

Judkins looked to his right and saw a number of people standing and kneeling on the sidewalk, apparently rendering aid to someone almost completely hidden from view by the other people, just feet from the east end of The Mirror office. Judkins quickly snapped a photo, which resulted in two or three people shouting at him to not take pictures.

Judkins responded firmly, “I will take pictures!”

Marlena Sparkman, who has a nearby business, replied, “A decent person wouldn’t take pictures.”

Another woman said, “That’s my daughter and I don’t want any pictures taken!” Several people, some intentionally, stepped in front of Judkins, preventing him from taking photos.

By thus suppressing the truth regarding this tragedy, hiding from the public the full, ugly realities of the baby’s death, the result may be that it helped to protect the perpetrator while at the same time it prevented the baby from receiving the full degree of justice for herself.

When the baby was first brought out to the sidewalk from her father’s apartment upstairs, an Orland firefighter, who just happened to be in the area, and a Willows firefighter valiantly began performing CPR on the infant. As more Willows volunteers arrived on the scene, they took over, doing everything they could to save the little girl.

A deputy approached a man, later identified as Joshua Lee, and asked him a question.

Lee answered, “I was feeding her.”

The deputy asked, “What were you feeding her?”

Lee replied, “It was formula.”

Minutes later, the baby was carried to a waiting ambulance. She was then rushed to an Enloe FlightCare helicopter at the Willows Airport, which flew her to UC Davis Medical Center for treatment.

A press release from the sheriff’s office stated, “At approximately 4:45 p.m. on [Friday, Jan. 8], UC Davis notified the Glenn County Sheriff’s Office that the infant was deceased. The nurse reported that the infant’s death was considered suspicious.

“Investigators from the Glenn Investigative Task Force (GLINTF) [now the sheriff’s major case unit, no longer just the narcotic task force] were called out for the incident and assumed the investigation into the infant’s death.

“At 1 a.m. on [Saturday, Jan. 9], the infant’s father (Joshua Jeenen Lee) was taken into custody [at UC Davis Medical Center] … and booked into the Glenn County Jail.”

Joshua Lee

In a press release issued on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, the Glenn County District Attorney’s Office said that Lee “was convicted of a felony violation of … involuntary manslaughter of his two-month and 22-day-old baby girl, Ariel Zoey Lee…. On January 8, 2021, Ariel was non-responsive and life-flighted to UC Davis Medical Center, where she was placed on a ventilator and was not expected to survive as the doctors found bleeding on Ariel’s brain and brain swelling, signs of shaking the baby.

“Both doctors who examined the baby at UC Davis Medical Center opined that the injuries inflicted upon Ariel were a result of the baby being shaken, not consistent with the [Lee’s] initial explanations of her choking during feeding or falling off the bed in their Willows apartment. [Lee], who was 18.5 years old at the time of the incident, eventually confessed that he picked up his daughter under her arms and shook Ariel twice.

“[Lee] admitted he shook Ariel because he was angry and frustrated that she would not stop crying, thinking shaking would make her stop crying. [Lee] was also coming down from being under the influence of non-prescribed Xanax, Percocet, and marijuana.

“[Lee] spoke at sentencing that he ‘loved and misses his daughter greatly and wishes she was still here.’ Defendant Lee’s attorney argued that the [Lee] is mentally unstable and had an IEP [Individualized Education Program] in school, mitigating his criminal conduct.”

Lee was represented in court by the Law Offices of Jason R. Holley (Holley Criminal Defense Law Offices), located in Sacramento. The lead attorney was Robert Miller Holley.

The press release from the district attorney’s office further stated that District Attorney Dwayne Stewart “argued to the court that many times the defense used the term ‘accident’, yet this deliberate action by the defendant was not an accident.

“Mr. Stewart stated Ariel was shaken so hard that her brain was smashed against her skull, shaken so hard that she died because of the injuries at the hands of her father – injuries that the defendant admitted he intentionally inflicted because he was mad, angry, and frustrated.

“Mr. Stewart stated, ‘Defendant intentionally inflicted these injuries because Ariel would not stop crying, taking out that frustration on his two-month and 22-day-old child, silencing her forever.’

“After lengthy arguments asking for a prison term under mandatory supervision from the prosecution versus a request for probation from the defense, [Lee] was granted probation for four years; 180 days in custody to serve at a substance abuse rehabilitation treatment facility; a 52-week child abuser program; drug court; [and] anger management and mental health counseling.

“This case was prosecuted by [District Attorney] Stewart, with assistance from Glenn County Sheriff’s Detective Lopeteguy and Victim Witness Advocate Pinedo.”

The press release concludes, “Our sincerest condolences and prayers for healing to the Bassetti family for the loss of their baby girl. In January of 2021, Ariel donated her heart and saved the life of a five-month-old boy in Seattle.

“Rest in peace, Ariel.”