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Mother Of Murder Victim Calls For Stricter Death Penalty Rules

Doug Smith
Florida Department of Corrections
Florida's execution chamber.

  The death penalty might be back in Florida soon as new rules on how defendants are given the sentence eek closer to becoming law.

A state Senate committee will hear the legislation along with new amendments that would bring the Senate and House bills in line with each other. But the mother of a murder victim hopes the Legislature will consider making it harder for juries to impose the death penalty.

In July of 2013, 20-year-old Shelby Farah was working alone in a MetroPCS store when James Rhodes walked in and shot her.

From the beginning, the prosecution has pursued the death penalty for Rhodes. Yet, Darlene Farah is fighting against that sentence for her daughter’s killer.

“I never believed in the death penalty in the first place,” said Farah. “My daughter Shelby [who] was murdered never believed in it also.”

“Do people think I’m going to go watch him get executed if in my case he gets the death penalty? No, I’m not going to go watch him get executed. That’s not going to bring me closure. Why would I want to go watch somebody else getting killed?” asks Farah.

Two and a half years after the murder, Rhodes’ trial continues. And with the recent Supreme Court decision that threw out Florida’s previous method for handing down  sentences, Farah fears it will continue to drag out.

She has been working to try and bring awareness about the impact of the death penalty on victim’s families,  including writing an op-ed in Time.

This week she met with state legislators to encourage them to make it harder for juries to hand down the death penalty by supporting the Senate version of a plan that would reinstate the penalty. It requires a unanimous jury in order to impose the sentence.

But, last week the House passed a bill requiring that just 10 of the 12 jurors  agree to the death sentence,  and Senate leaders confirmed that a deal has been struck to that affect. An amendment changing the Senate version to align it with the House will be discussed at a Thursday committee hearing.

Critics of the non-unanimous jury sentence say it could open Florida up to yet another death penalty challenge because it would be one of just three states that do not require all jurors to agree to the sentence.