Judge approves new attorney for accused child-killer

March 2, 2019

KINGMAN — In another twist to a long-standing murder case, a Superior Court judge appointed another attorney Wednesday for a Bullhead City man accused of killing an 8-year-old girl in 2014.

Last December, Justin James Rector, 30, asked to represent himself and agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder. Chief Legal Defender Ron Gilleo was assigned as advisory counsel.

Under the plea agreement, Rector’s remaining charges in two cases would have been dismissed, including kidnapping, child abuse and abandonment of a dead body in one case and three counts of aggravated assault in another case.

Rector pleaded guilty to the Sept. 2, 2014, murder of Isabella Grogan-

Cannella. Per the plea agreement, he would have been sentenced to life in prison without parole for 35 years.

In January, Rector sent a letter to Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen asking to withdraw from the plea agreement and to continue his sentencing. He asked to withdraw from the plea agreement after he received a mitigation report.

In the report, he discovered a list of negative test results and other evidence that he believed would provide a jury with doubt about his guilt. In e-mails between Rector’s former attorney and a mitigation specialist, they reportedly sought to withhold forensic evidence and test results from Rector.

Last Friday, Rector sent another letter to Jantzen asking to withdraw his request to represent himself, admitting that it was a “bad idea” and asked for a new attorney and to continue Monday’s evidentiary hearing on several defense motions.

Deputy Mohave County Attorney Greg McPhillips responded to Rector’s motions, arguing that the defendant could not withdraw from his plea agreement because he represented himself at the time he pleaded guilty. Rector also could not show “manifest injustice” by his prior attorney’s performance.

On Wednesday, Jantzen allowed Gilleo to withdraw as advisory counsel because of a possible conflict of interest, and ordered the county’s Indigent Defense Services to appoint a new attorney for Rector.

The judge also vacated Monday’s evidentiary hearing and reset the evidentiary hearing on Rector’s motions for April 19. The judge also vacated a jury trial previously set for April 29, and set a status hearing for March 27.

On the night of Sept. 2, 2014, 8-year-old Grogan-Cannella and her then 10-year-old sister were left in Rector’s care. When her sister came back from the bathroom, the sister found Grogan-Cannella had gone missing and alerted her family.

Rector allegedly strangled Grogan-Cannella with a soft ligature, possibly a shirt, and then used a hand shovel to bury her body in a shallow grave near their Lakeside Drive home. Rector then discarded the shovel. When the parents returned from shopping, they called police after discovering Grogan-Cannella was missing. Rector was arrested later that morning.

Rector also was charged in a second case with assaulting a detention officer July 17, 2017, in his jail cell.