Man accused of slaying an 8-year-old girl in 2014 wants to act as his own attorney

December 7, 2018

After more than four years and nearly $1 million in legal fees, a man accused in the 2014 slaying of a Bullhead City child announced Tuesday that he wishes to represent himself in the case.

At a Dec. 4 status conference, Justin J. Rector told Mohave County Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen that he wished to act as his own attorney. With his April 29 trial date looming, Rector would have little time to prepare, or to gather evidence necessary for his defense.

Rector is awaiting trial on charges of first degree murder, kidnapping, child abuse and abandonment of a body in the death of 8-year-old Isabella Grogan Cannella. The victim was found strangled, partially-clothed and buried in a shallow grave in September 2014. Rector was a guest in the home of Cannella’s mother and grandfather at the time of the alleged killing.

Prosecutors hoped to pursue the death penalty in Rector’s case until this year, when prohibitive legal costs were cited as cause to pursue a sentence of life imprisonment instead. Since April, Rector has been defended by Phoenix defense attorney Julia Cassels, who has sought multiple continuances in the case as she attempted to interview witnesses and examine evidence on her client’s behalf – picking up where Rector’s previous four attorneys left off.

Cassels said Tuesday there would be issues in producing the “voluminous” amount of evidence shared with her by prosecutors to provide to Rector, should he act as his own attorney. She requested that the county’s Indigent Defense Services Office provide Rector with an attorney for the specific purpose of advising him on representing himself.

Cassels also requested a mental health evaluation for Rector, but Jantzen denied her request for the time being.

Rector will next appear at a Dec. 18 hearing, where Jantzen will hear the defendant’s motion to represent himself at trial.

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