Judge dismisses murder charge; woman pleads no contest in son’s death

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published March 2, 2015

 Audrionna Rhoades stands before Judge Jennifer Faunce at the Macomb County Circuit Court on April 2, 2014. On Feb. 2, Faunce dismissed the second-degree murder charge against Rhoades, and Rhoades pleaded no contest to felony child abuse — leaving a child in a vehicle resulting in death.

Audrionna Rhoades stands before Judge Jennifer Faunce at the Macomb County Circuit Court on April 2, 2014. On Feb. 2, Faunce dismissed the second-degree murder charge against Rhoades, and Rhoades pleaded no contest to felony child abuse — leaving a child in a vehicle resulting in death.

File photo by Deb Jacques

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP — On Feb. 2, Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Faunce dismissed the second-degree murder charge against a 22-year-old Shelby Township woman in the Sept. 3, 2013, death of her 2-year-old son.

Audrionna Rhoades pleaded no contest to the other count against her: felony child abuse — leaving a child in a vehicle resulting in death. The charge carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison or a fine of up to $10,000.

Because she pleaded no contest, Rhoades will not face a jury trial. Her criminal sentencing date is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. March 17.

Faunce denied a request by Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office Chief of Homicide Bill Cataldo for a stay on Rhoades’ plea in order to appeal the dismissal. According to the Michigan Court of Appeals website, the Prosecutor’s Office filed a motion for a peremptory reversal on Feb. 19.

Rhoades’ son, James Nelson, died as a result of heatstroke after he was left for an unknown length of time in a minivan parked at Rhoades’ residence, which she shared with a roommate at the time. Who placed the child in the vehicle remains unclear, but police arrested Rhoades almost three weeks after Nelson died.

On May 7, 2014, Faunce granted the request of Rhoades’ defense attorney, Leon Weiss, to lower her bond from $500,000 to $50,000 cash or 10 percent, an amount her family could afford, and placed her under house arrest.

On Dec. 8, Faunce granted the removal of Rhoades’ tether.

“I filed a motion saying it was a legal error of the district court to bind my client over on second-degree murder because the evidence from the preliminary examination was not sufficient to support the charge,” Weiss said. “Judge Faunce granted the motion and dismissed count one.”

Weiss said Rhoades is still quick to break into tears, and that his investigation into the case moved him to believe she had no malice against her son.

“She loved the hell out of the kid — whatever happened. I don’t know what happened,” he said. “She’s devastated. You can’t really get over something like that. I believe the greatest pain on the planet a human being can feel emotionally is the loss of a child.”

Weiss said he felt Rhoades would never get over the death of her son, but that she was moving forward.

“When the case is over and finally put to bed, whatever the sentence is, I think that will really allow her to start healing,” he said. “As long as the case is open, it’s a wound that’s still bleeding.”

He said he intended to ask Faunce to give Rhoades probation at her sentencing.

Cataldo declined to comment on the case.

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