Victim's mom testifies for defense in store clerk killing

Judge denies motion to disqualify prosecutors in James Rhodes trial

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The mother of a Metro PCS clerk gunned down in 2013 testified for the defense Monday at a pretrial hearing for the man accused of killing her daughter.

It was an emotional day for Darlene Farah and her son, Caleb Farah. They were called to testify because attorneys for James Rhodes, the man accused of shooting and killing 20-year-old Shelby Farah, want prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda off the case.

Farah said the day was hard, but it's another step in the process of getting the case over with and getting justice for her daughter, nearly three years after her death.

“To be honest with you, I feel good a little bit. I got a lot off my chest,” Darlene Farah said.

Darlene Farah said she agrees with the defense's claim that the State Attorney's Office influenced Caleb Farah to support the death penalty for Rhodes by showing him the surveillance footage of the moment his sister was killed.

But Caleb Farah testified that no one made him watch the video. He said he was encouraged not to watch it, but he insisted.

After hearing both sides, Judge Tatiana Salvador denied the motion to disqualify the State Attorney's Office from the case.

“It's really insulting to say that somebody would go to that level and make these accusations that have no grounds at all,” de la Rionda said. “We're very pleased with the court's ruling denying both of these motions.”

The prosecutor said that although Darlene Farah is against the death penalty, he believes Rhodes should be held accountable for his actions.

“The law states that no matter what the victim's family feels -- and quite frankly 99 percent of the time they are in favor of the death penalty -- that never comes out in the court room, so it's irrelevant,” de la Rionda said. “We are doing what we feel is appropriate based on the facts of the law. That's all we can rely on. Nevertheless, we are sympathetic to a victim's family. You have to be."

Darlene Farah said that despite her opposition to a death sentence, she doesn't want Rhodes to go unpunished.

“I don't feel sorry for him. He knew wrong from right when he committed the crime,” she said. “Yes, it was premeditated, but two life sentences consecutive, plus 20 years, he'll be in there for the rest of his life.”

Rhodes' trial, which was set to begin May 2, was also pushed back Monday because of new state legislation on the death penalty.

Salvador set Aug. 29 as the date for jury selection in the trial. The final pretrial date will be Aug. 22.

Earlier this month, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure designed to fix the state's death penalty sentencing process after it was found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The new law, which went into effect immediately, would require at least 10 jurors to recommend death for the penalty to be imposed.

Darlene Farah wrote an opinion piece for Time magazine on the death penalty, titled “My Daughter's Killer Should Not Get the Death Penalty.”

Cellphone store clerk killed in robbery

Rhodes is charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Shelby Farah during a robbery of a Brentwood cellphone store.

Police said that after several hours of questioning, Rhodes confessed.

Police said Farah was found dead after officers responded to a report of an armed robbery at the store on Main Street near 21st Street.

Police said Rhodes pointed a gun at the 20-year-old and demanded money. They said she cooperated and after she handed him the last bit of money, he fired four rounds, killing her.

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