Appeallate court denies special action for Rector attorney

November 20, 2018

KINGMAN — An Arizona appellate court has denied a special action for the attorney representing a Bullhead City man accused of killing an 8-year-old girl.

Justin James Rector, 30, is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping, child abuse and abandonment of a dead body in the 2014 death of Isabella Grogan-Cannella. He is being held in the Mohave County Jail in Kingman without bond.

Rector’s attorney, Julia Cassels, filed a special action with the Arizona Court of Appeals to support an ex-parte request for appointing a defense investigator, expert witness or mitigation specialist. The appellate court declined the special action petition Thursday.

Cassels originally filed a motion to meet with Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen ex parte for funding for experts or for additional investigation. An ex-parte hearing with the judge is without the presence of the prosecutor or the public. Making funding requests public tilted the playing field in favor of the prosecutor, Cassels argued.

The special action was filed with the appellate court in response to Jantzen’s denial of that ex-parte motion. Jantzen denied Cassels’ motion, ruling that ex parte meetings were no longer needed in a non-capital murder case. Prosecutors withdrew the death penalty against Rector in February.

Deputy Mohave County Attorney Greg McPhillips also filed a response Thursday opposing Cassels’ motion to stay any further proceedings in Jantzen’s court. Because of the appellate court’s ruling, the motion to stay proceedings is a moot point, he argued.

McPhillips also provided an update of the case, asking Jantzen not to delay Rector’s murder trial, which is set for April. The prosecutor said that Cassels has declined to interview state’s witnesses and has not disclosed a list of defense witnesses or experts to call at trial.

Rector’s next hearing is set for Nov. 26. His murder trial is set to begin April 29, with a pre-trial hearing set for April 5.

Grogan-Cannella, 8, and her 10-year-old sister were left in Rector’s care on the night of Sept. 2, 2014, when their parents went shopping at a Bullhead City store. When the parents returned, they called police and Grogan-Cannella was reported missing from their Lakeside Drive home.

Her body was found in a shallow grave in a wash about a half-mile from her home. The cause of her death was determined to be asphyxiation by strangulation. Rector was arrested later that morning.

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