JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There's a new push from the public defender's office to take the death penalty off the table in the case of James Xavier Rhodes, 24. It's an idea the victim's mother, Darlene Farah, supports as well.
"I feel like the public defender's office is more compassionate about the situation than the state attorney's office. I feel like they care more about what we're going through," Farah said.
A judge is scheduled to take up several death penalty issues related to the case at a hearing Wednesday afternoon.
Last week, public defender Matt Shirk sent a letter to State Attorney Angel Corey asking her office to reconsider seeking the death penalty for Rhodes.
For the past 18 months, Shirk says Rhodes has been willing to plead guilty to all charges related to Shelby's death. In return, he'd get two consecutive life sentences without parole for first degree murder and armed robbery, plus an additional 20 years in prison for aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
"The state is not helping. I'm trying to get the family back together, trying to get control of my life back. I feel like they have control of my life," Farah said.
Shirk said Rhodes would also waive his right to appeal his case in the future.
Police say Rhodes shot and killed Shelby Farah, 20, during a robbery at the Metro PSC store on North Main Street where she worked in 2013. Police say Rhodes shot the victim after she handed him the cash he asked for.
Shirk lists several reasons why the SAO should consider the deal, including the fact that this is what Darlene Farah, Shelby's mother, wants out of the case. Her death has been hard on the entire Farah family, including her younger sister who is getting ready to graduate from high school.
"She just mentioned to me the other day she wished Shelby was here to help her pick out her prom dress," Farah said.
Farah says she wants some measure of closure. She's worried about decades worth of litigation if prosecutors are able to secure a death penalty recommendation. Shirk writes, "I believe that with every motion, petition or appeal filed on Mr. Rhodes' behalf, she will relive the pain and loss she has felt since losing Shelby."
Shirk also points out the uncertainty surrounding Florida's death penalty. The legislature is currently rewriting the death penalty law after the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that the current method is unconstitutional. Shirk writes, "Assuming the legislature is able to pass legislation prior to Mr. Rhodes' trial, Mr. Rhodes' case will be one of the first death penalty trials in Florida under new sentencing procedures. As such, if your office secures a death verdict, there will be years of litigation centering around whether Florida's new sentencing scheme passes constitutional muster."
Farah believes the money it would take to send Rhodes to death row could be better used elsewhere. According to the Florida Department of Corrections, it takes $18,000 a year to house an inmate in a Florida prison. By the times Rhodes is 75-years-old, it would cost the state roughly $900,000 to keep him alive.
According to a 2014 investigation by the Florida-Times Union, it would cost much more to send him to death row, which costs about $3 million per person.
Shirk isn't against the death penalty, but says he doesn't believe this case fits the bill.
"Personally, I believe the death penalty is a useful tool. We just don't administer it properly in this country. We've had 26 people just here in the state of Florida that have been exonerated from death row as innocent," Shirk said.
The state attorney's office has aggressively prosecuted death penalty cases since Angela Corey was sworn into office in January 2009.
Corey represents the Fourth Judicial Circuit covering Duval, Clay and Nassau Counties. Records show her office has sent more people to death row than another other prosecutor in the state since the start of 2009.
First Coast News requested an interview with Corey to explain her stance. A spokesperson sent us the following statement:
The State is still seeking the death penalty in this case. The State is in the process of filing a formal response regarding the death penalty motions filed by the Defendant. Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda will address the various motions in the appropriate venue, the courtroom. The hearing is set for Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. Due to this being a pending matter, it would be inappropriate to comment further.
Rhodes is scheduled to go to trial in May.