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Rector wants to withdraw guilty plea

January 25, 2019

KINGMAN — A little more than a month after pleading guilty to the 2014 murder of Isabella Grogan-Cannella, Justin Rector has asked the court for an opportunity to withdraw his plea and to delay a Jan. 30 sentencing hearing.

Rector, 31, dismissed his defense attorneys in December and entered a guilty plea to a charge of first-degree murder in the death of 8-year-old Grogan-Cannella. The plea deal stipulated a mandatory sentence of life in prison without opportunity for parole for at least 35 years.

In exchange for his guilty plea to first-degree murder, charges of kidnapping, child abuse and abandonment of a dead body were to be dismissed.

In his hand-written note dated Jan. 16, submitted to Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen from the Mohave County Jail on Monday and filed with the court Tuesday morning, Rector said he was “requesting to withdraw from plea due to a reasonable manifest of injustice.”

He indicated he was “trying to get paper and envelope to write (Jantzen) explaining my reason. No response from jail yet.”

Rector also asked for a continuance of the sentencing “until I can explain this to (Jantzen) or I’m willing to explain it in court on the 30th.”

Jantzen ordered that Rector’s inmate request form be distributed to all involved parties, including Ron Gileo, who is serving as advisory counsel following Rector’s granted motion to represent himself in the case, and the Mohave County Attorney’s office. Greg McPhillips, deputy county attorney, is the lead prosecutor in the case.

Jantzen’s order set a hearing at 1:30 p.m. on Monday to address both the continuance of the judgment and sentencing and Rector’s request to withdraw from the plea agreement.

“I don’t know his reasoning,” McPhillips said Tuesday afternoon regarding Rector’s desire to withdraw his plea. “Honestly, I have no idea.”

McPhillips said he would oppose the change of plea at Monday’s hearing but, until learning the basis for Rector’s request, “I don’t have a way to make a comment on that ... at this time.”

The phrase “manifest injustice” is defined as an outcome that is plainly or obviously unjust. McPhillips would not speculate on what, if any, manifest injustice would have been generated by Rector’s voluntary guilty plea.

“To me, it’s not surprising that a person would have cold feet after pleading guilty,” McPhillips said.

In most cases, he added, the defendant has legal representation to provide guidance. Rector, however, was granted a waiver of counsel on Dec. 18 before entering his guilty plea. Gileo, from the Mohave County Legal Defender’s office, is serving as advisory counsel, not as Rector’s actual attorney.

Gileo was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

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