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Could James Rhodes' trial be postponed to next year?

Man accused of killing 20-year-old cellphone store clerk set for trial in August

James Rhodes
James Rhodes

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A man accused of gunning down a Metro PCS clerk in 2013 could see his trial postponed until next year if the Florida Supreme Court does not rule by Aug. 1 on the status of the state's death penalty law.

Defense attorneys for James Rhodes have filed a long list of motions related to Florida's death penalty.
Rhodes was in court Monday for a pretrial hearing. His trial is scheduled to start Aug. 29, but the trial will be delayed yet again if the Supreme Court does not rule on the death penalty motions.

Lawyers from all over Florida have asked the Supreme Court to strike down the state's death penalty law as unconstitutional, even with fixes made by the Legislature.

The Rhodes case is one of several high-profile murder prosecutions that have bogged down in the uncertainty over the law.

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law in March 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 requires a jury to vote at least 10-2 for someone to receive a death sentence.

Rhodes' attorneys contend that a jury verdict must be unanimous in death penalty cases.

Judge Tatiana Salvador got both sides to agree that if the Florida Supreme Court hasn't ruled by Aug. 1, Rhodes' trial will be pushed back, probably until sometime next year.

Rhodes' public defender has repeatedly tried to get the state to accept a plea deal with Rhodes that would take the death penalty off the table.

The State Attorney's Office said it will continue to seek the death penalty against Rhodes, who is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of 20-year-old Shelby Farah  during a robbery of a Brentwood cellphone store.

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

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. 

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.

Rhodes' trial had been set to begin May 2, but it was pushed back because of the new state legislation on the death penalty.

Farah's mother told News4Jax on Monday that she is unhappy with the possibility that Rhodes' case could be put on hold until to next year.

"It's not a step forward. It's a setback," Darlene Farah said. "Two and a half years ago, he put an offer on the table for two life sentences to run consecutive, plus 20 years, no eligibility for parole and no eligibility for appeals. We wanted them to take the offer. This could have been over with two and a half years ago."

Darlene Farah has repeatedly asked the State Attorney's Office not to seek the death penalty against Rhodes. She wants him to face life in prison.

"Before I went public with me not wanting the death penalty, I -- for over a year -- I've been back and forth with the prosecutor trying to get them not to seek the death penalty," Darlene Farah said. "And I feel like they should take into consideration how the victim's mother feels."

The State Attorney's Office issued a statement Monday about the case:

The State Attorney’s Office will continue to seek the death penalty in the appropriate cases.  Due to the fact that this case is pending, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time."

Darlene Farah said the pre-trial developments have taken a toll on her family, saying she's angry with prosecutors for showing her son the video of Shelby being killed after he turned 18.

She said she fears they will do the same with Shelby's sister.

She said she wants to protect her children from those images.

Prosecutors and Rhodes' attorneys will be back in court Aug. 22 to discuss what happens or doesn't happen by the deadline in Tallahassee.