Mother charged with murder appears in circuit court
On Sept. 3, James Nelson, 2, died of heat stroke after being left unattended for an unknown length of time in a van at his Shelby Township home. The circumstances of his death are still unclear, but his mother, Audrionna Rhoades, 21, faces two felonies: second-degree murder and child abuse — leaving a child in a vehicle resulting in death.
On Feb. 10, Rhoades waived her arraignment at circuit court.
Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Faunce entered a not guilty plea on the two charges, which carry sentences of life and 15 years in prison or up to a $10,000 fine, respectively, and kept Rhoades’ bond at $500,000.
Judge Douglas Shepherd bound over the case from the 41-A District Court in Shelby Township to circuit court for a trial after a preliminary examination in late January.
Rhoades has been in custody at the Macomb County Jail since her arrest Sept. 23 after a police investigation.
For two weeks before her arrest, Rhoades’ paternal grandmother, Mary Catenacci, said Rhoades checked herself in as an inpatient at a hospital because of her overwhelming grief.
Rhoades’ defense attorney, Randy Rodnick, said his client has always vehemently denied involvement in her son’s death.
Catenacci and Rhoades’ father, Johnny Rhoades, were present at the Macomb County Circuit Court for the waived arraignment. They said that life since the death of Nelson has been “terrible.”
“We’re happy with the defense Mr. Rodnick has been giving us, considering he’s a court-appointed attorney,” Catenacci said. “This has been rough on us because we trust her absolutely. This isn’t the type of kid she is. She was confirmed, she went to college and worked to support herself and the baby.”
Faunce granted Rodnick’s motions for $1,000 for a psychiatrist to review records and files from when Rhoades was an inpatient and $750 to pay an investigator.
“I’m looking to see if there’s any person that may have seen anything in the neighborhood,” Rodnick told Faunce. “I’ve been getting texts and emails and things from all over the place regarding potential witnesses, and I want an investigator to check that out.”
Johnny Rhoades said the events the day of the incident do not fit together, in his mind. He said Nelson was found strapped in his car seat without shoes on, and that he never left the house without shoes. He said that his grandson was also capable of strapping himself in and out of his car seat.
He added that his daughter told him that when she left for work that morning, Nelson was asleep on a futon inside the motor home.
At the preliminary exam, Rodnick said, Audrionna Rhoades’ roommate testified that she was home all day using Skype to talk with her boyfriend in Germany.
Both women deny placing Nelson in the unlocked 1997 Dodge Caravan in the driveway of their residence in Dequindre Estates Mobile Home Park, Rodnick said.
“This is all circumstantial evidence,” Rodnick said of the case. “This is all theoretical.”
Audrionna Rhoades’ pretrial conference is set for 8:30 a.m. April 2.