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Judge rules accused killer can face death penalty

James Rhodes accused of killing Shelby Farah while robbing cellphone store

James Rhodes appears in court for a pretrial hearing.
James Rhodes appears in court for a pretrial hearing.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The man accused in the execution-style killing of a 20-year-old clerk during a robbery two years ago is intellectually sufficient to face the death penalty if convicted, a Duval County judge ruled Tuesday morning.

James Rhodes, 23, is accused of shooting Shelby Farah after she handed over money during the robbery of the MetroPCS store on North Main Street in July 2013.

In recent hearings, a defense psychologist testified that 23-year-old James Rhodes is mentally competent for prosecution but is intellectually disabled, but a psychologist for the prosecution testified that he reviewed Rhodes' IQ scores going back to when he was 6 years old and found Rhodes is not intellectually disabled.

If he were found intellectually disabled, he could not legally be executed under Florida law.

Judge Tatiana Salvador denied Tuesday the defense motion that would have prevented the state from seeking the death penalty. 

The victim's family had actually hoped the death penalty would be taken off the table.

It has nothing to do with us wanting him to get less time. I would love to see him sit in prison for the rest of his life," said Caleb Farah, Shelby's brother. "Since he is facing the death penalty, he will probably get the death penalty. He's going to get automatic appeals. You've got the guy that just came back after his death penalty (Randall Deviney), and it's a retrial. I can't even imagine doing this all over again for a second time."

Shelby's mother, Darlene Farah, said it was the ruling that she expected, but dreaded because it makes the case much more complex.

"Everybody knows a death penalty case is different," Darlene Farah said. "It's been two years, I'm tired. I'm drained. I'm exhausted emotionally, so I just want it over with so I can try to put structure and stability back into my children's lives and into my life."

Rhodes will be back in court Aug. 12. Prosecutors hope a trial date is set during that hearing.