Rector pleads guilty to Bullhead City girl’s 2014 murder

December 19, 2018

Four years ago, an 8-year-old Bullhead City girl was found strangled, partially-clothed and buried in a shallow grave. Her alleged killer, Justin J. Rector, pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges of first-degree murder.

Rector has awaited trial since 2014 in what was once a capital murder case. Multiple attorneys have withdrawn as his legal counsel, all while costing Mohave County almost $1 million in indigent legal defense fees. With his April trial date looming, Rector filed a motion earlier this month to act as his own attorney.

Julia Cassels, who was Rector’s most recent attorney before requesting to represent himself, respected her former client’s decision, according to a Kingman Daily Miner story.

“If Justin wants to represent himself, it’s perfectly OK,” Cassels told the judge. “It’s his right, it’s his life. We just want the best for Justin.”

Mohave County Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen found that Rector knowingly and willingly has decided to represent himself, that he was not forced or threatened into making the decision, nor were any promises made to him by the state. The judge also asked if Rector had consumed any drugs or alcohol in the last 24 hours, to which the defendant responded that he had not.

The judge asked Rector for his name, date of birth, highest level of education (eighth grade), whether he had ever been declared mentally incompetent, whether he’s ever represented himself or has any legal background, and if he’d read the waiver form in detail.

“Is it still your desire to represent yourself?” Jantzen asked.

“Yes sir,” Rector responded.

“Do you understand your charge is first-degree murder, that’s the most serious offense?” Jantzen continued.

Again, “Yes sir.”

Judge Jantzen approved the request Tuesday morning, and Rector’s first act as his own attorney was to accept a plea agreement offered by Mohave County prosecutors.

“I want to move forward,” Rector said. “I’m willing to sign the agreement the state’s offered. I know the attorneys have a legal obligation. It’s my choice to move forward. I can make my own choices.”

In exchange for pleading guilty to first-degree murder of Bella Grogan-Cannella, charges of child abuse, kidnapping and abandonment of a body will be dismissed. Prosecutors have also agreed to dismiss charges of aggravated assault against a corrections officer, allegedly committed in 2017. Under the agreement, Rector will not face a sentence of life imprisonment.

Under the terms of Rector’s plea agreement, he will serve 35 years in prison without the possibility of parole, and additional conditions may be applied at Jantzen’s discretion.

Rector is scheduled to appear for sentencing at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 30, at Mohave County Superior Court.

Kingman Daily Miner reporter Hubble Ray Smith contributed to this story.

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