Supreme Court ruling could affect Jacksonville murder case

Court rules states must consider more than IQ in borderline cases

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo of James Rhodes
Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo of James Rhodes

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Twenty-year-old Shelby Farah was murdered in Jacksonville last July when the store she was working in was robbed.

Prosecutors have charged James Rhodes with first degree murder in the case, and they are seeking the death penalty. But that could now be easier said than done.

In Florida, people with IQ scores above 70 are not allowed to claim a mental disability.

But on Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that in borderline cases — IQs between 71 and 75 — states have to look at more than IQ scores to determine if a person is "intellectually disabled" — a classification that would prevent the state from executing the person.

Last week Rhodes' attorney filed a motion saying Rhodes is "intellectually disabled."

"All of these things become relevant to somebody whose IQ is between 71 and 75: Their upbringing, whether they were subjected to child abuse, whether or not they were able to hold down a job, past performance in their environment," said Rod Sullivan, a professor at Florida Coastal School of Law. "All of these things become relevant now to this decision."

Sullivan said he expects that other death row inmates and their lawyers will come forward and call their sentences into question, especially if there's a chance that they fall into this category.

Some death penalty opponents applauded the ruling, but other people, like Shelby Farah's mother, Darlene Farah, believe IQ shouldn't matter at all.

"What it boils down to is knowing what's right and what's wrong," Farah said. "Especially if you're charged with premeditated murder."

At the Families of Slain Children facility on Myrtle Avenue, Farah looks at the wall and sees Shelby's name near the top. Shelby (pictured) was shot and killed during a robbery at the Metro PCS store on North Main Street last year.

No matter what happens in the case, Farah said she has faith in the system.

"I just put it in God's hands," she said. "I feel very confident that everything is going to work out. Whatever the outcome is, I have to accept it."

Rhodes is due back in court in July. As of now, his trial is scheduled for August.

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