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Shelby Township

Published May 7, 2014

Mother accused in death of toddler to return home

Rhoades spent the last eight months in jail for allegedly leaving son in van

» click to enlarge «
Audrionna Rhoades, 21, of Shelby Township, stands in Judge Jennifer Faunce’s courtroom at the Macomb County Circuit Court April 2. On May 7, Faunce reduced Rhoades’ bond to allow her to return home.

Audrionna Rhoades, 21, of Shelby Township, will shed county jail attire for the first time in eight months.

On May 7, Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Faunce granted Rhoades’ new legal counsel’s request to lower Rhoades’ bond to an amount her family could afford — from $500,000 to $50,000 cash or 10 percent.

Faunce also mandated that Rhoades will wear an electronic tether and remain under house arrest with exceptions for work, school, court, medical appointments, counseling appointments and visits to her attorney’s office.

On Sept. 3, Rhoades’ son, James Nelson, 2, died of heatstroke as a result of being left in a van in the driveway of her residence at Dequindre Estates mobile home park.

After a police investigation, Rhoades pleaded not guilty Sept. 24 to two felony charges against her: second-degree murder and leaving a child in a vehicle resulting in death. The first count carries a sentence of life in prison; the second count carries a sentence of 15 years in prison or a fine up to $10,000.

Rhoades’ family hired criminal defense attorney Leon Weiss to represent her in lieu of court-appointed attorney Randy Rodnick a couple of weeks ago, Weiss said.

Because Weiss recently received the case files from Rodnick, prosecutor Bill Cataldo, chief of homicide for the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office, asked for and received an adjournment in a Walker hearing originally scheduled by Rodnick.

The next court date and Walker hearing, which potentially could suppress conflicting statements Rhoades allegedly made during the investigation, are scheduled for 10 a.m. July 2.

Weiss argued that his client has excellent family support, that she is a lifelong resident and that she had already gone though a lot with the loss of her son.

“She was working and going to school when she was arrested. She’s likely to resume that,” Weiss said, and he added that Rhoades would comply with an electronic tether, but that he did not believe she would be a flight risk.

While Cataldo opposed the bond reduction, Faunce said that from her review of psychological and forensic reports, the incident appeared to be accidental rather than intentional, and she agreed to reduce the bond, given Rhoades’ family support.

“We’re very happy because it’s what we wanted for a long time,” said Rhoades’ grandmother, Mary Catenacci. “It’s been tough in jail.”

Rhoades’ father, Johnny Rhoades, said that he, Catenacci and Rhoades’ stepmother would travel straight from the court to the Macomb County Jail to take care of the paperwork and pick up his daughter.

Weiss said the family would put up $5,000 — 10 percent of the bond — and, if Rhoades appears in court in July, the family would receive about 90 percent of that amount back.

“When you’re in jail, it suspends your ability to grieve just trying to survive day to day,” Weiss said. “I think the court made a ruling that is consistent with the facts and the law and that it was a compassionate ruling. We’re glad to have her out.”

He added that it was too early to comment on his plans for the case.

Cataldo declined to comment.

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