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Shelby Township

September 24, 2013

Mother pleads not guilty in toddler’s death

By Sarah Wojcik
C & G Staff Writer

Audrionna Rhoades, 21, of Shelby Township, faced Magistrate Michael R. Osaer via video conference at the 41-A District Court at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 24, charged with two felonies: 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, 15 years in prison or a fine up to $10,000.

Rhoades pleaded not guilty.

On Sept. 3, Rhoades’ son, 2-year-old James Nelson, died of heatstroke as a result of being left in an unlocked 2007 Dodge Caravan in the driveway of her home at Dequindre Estates Motor Home Park for an undetermined amount of time. Police estimate he was in the vehicle anywhere from four to nine hours.

Police launched an investigation into the events of the day and arrested Rhoades at approximately 4 p.m. Sept. 23 in Auburn Hills.

She currently is in custody at the Macomb County Jail.

Osaer granted Rhoades’ application for a court-appointed lawyer and set her bond at $500,000. Her preliminary exam will be at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 8 at the 41-A District Court.

“After my son passed away, I found out after I got out of work, and my mom wanted me to go to a mental hospital because I was so distraught,” Rhoades said, adding that she was hospitalized for about two weeks.

The Macomb County Prosecutor's Office declined to comment on the reason for the two charges.

Rhoades’ father, Johnny Rhoades, and her paternal grandmother, Mary Catenacci, were both present at the arraignment.

“It’s still not fitting,” Johnny Rhoades said. “The whole day is not fitting right.”

He said Audrionna Rhoades told her family that when she left for work the morning of Sept. 3, her son was sleeping on the futon in her home and her roommate was there. He also said that if she were going to bring him to his residence, she would call first.

“We bought a place within 10 doors of each other so we could be there to support her and the baby — mainly the baby,” he said.

He added that Audrionna’s roommate had been home all day, but that she denied seeing Nelson all day.

“I know (Audrionna) didn’t do it on purpose,” he said. “There is not a bone in my body that thinks that.”

Johnny Rhoades remembered his grandson as an independent, social child who was comfortable walking down the street and greeting everyone he saw.

“I’ve still got his toys on my floor,” he said through tears. “For his sake, I want the truth. For his memory, I want to know what happened.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at swojcik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1029.