A Michigan mom was sentenced to three years' probation after leaving her 2-year-old son buckled in a minivan outside her mobile home, where he died of heatstroke in 2013, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Audrionna Rhoades, 23, was initially charged with second-degree murder, a felony that could have resulted in as many as 15 years behind bars. But earlier this year, Judge Jennifer Faunce dismissed the murder charge over the objections of prosecutors, and Rhoades pleaded no contest to a single count of child abuse in February, according to the Free Press.
On Nov. 17, a Macomb County Circuit Court judge sentenced Rhoades to probation. After reviewing forensic and psychological reports in the case, Faunce said Rhoades was negligent, but didn't intentionally harm her child. The judge cited the seven months Rhoades had spent in jail as further reason for reducing the charge.
"Certainly, the loss of a child for most everyone, especially under such horrible circumstances, is punishment," Faunce told Rhoades earlier this year, explaining her decision. "I do believe based on what I've read and what I've seen and what your attorney has told me, that you've considered it punishment as well."
The body of James Rhoades was discovered by his grandfather, Johnny Rhoades, after his daughter's roommate told him the boy was locked in the Dodge Caravan. Audrionna had left for work earlier in the day, and later told authorities she thought she had left her son on a futon inside her mobile home. The family lives in Shelby Township, about 30 miles north of Detroit.
"She's pounding on the door. I go down there, and he's dead," Johnny, 53, told the Free Press. "He's in the van, strapped in his frickin' car seat, sopping wet, blue. My girlfriend tried CPR, but he was dead. The poor baby."
James Rhoades was pronounced dead at Beaumont Hospital in Troy, Michigan. The boy's body temperature was 108 degrees when doctors examined him at the hospital, the Macomb County Medical Examiner’s Office told the Grand Haven Tribune.
Although temperatures outside were only in the mid-70s, police said the minivan's windows were rolled up and temperatures inside a vehicle can reach more than 100 degrees within 15 minutes.
A report by San Jose State University's Department of Meteorology & Climate Science illustrates how sunlight can warm car dashboards and seats in minutes, rapidly heating the ambient temperature inside a vehicle by conduction.
Since 1998, 661 children in the U.S. have died of heatstroke while locked inside vehicles, according to statistics from the National Safety Council. More than half of those deaths were the result of caregivers who "forgot" children in locked cars, statistics show, and every year an average of 37 children die under similar circumstances.
Leon Weiss, attorney for Audrionna, said his client is undergoing counseling and working toward a bachelor's degree. He praised the judge for taking an "extremely compassionate" view of the case.
"This was a tragic accident," Weiss said. "The judge saw it for what it was."