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Girl’s accused killer seeks to act as his own attorney

December 5, 2018

KINGMAN — In a surprise move Tuesday, a Bullhead City man accused of the 2014 murder of an 8-year-oid girl asked the judge to allow him to represent himself in both of his cases.

After 4-1/2 years and a half-dozen defense attorneys, Justin James Rector stood up in court and informed Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen that he wants to represent himself in his two criminal cases.

Rector, 30, is charged in one case with first-degree murder, kidnapping, child abuse and abandonment of a dead body in the September 2014 death of 8-year-old Isabella Grogan-Cannella.

Rector also is charged in a second case with three counts of aggravated assault after he allegedly assaulted a detention officer July 17, 2017, in his jail cell. He is being held in custody without bond.

Rector’s attorney, Julia Cassels, said she has concerns with his competency and asked the judge for an outside counsel to speak to Rector on the drawbacks of representing himself. A mental health evaluation also might be appropriate, she said.

Two mental health experts conducted evaluations on Rector in the past when he faced the death penalty — which was withdrawn by prosecutors in February — but have not disclosed their reports, Cassels said. She recommended that Rector meet with those experts.

Deputy Mohave County Attorney Greg McPhillips said normally he would not take a position but warned Rector of the victim’s rights to a speedy trial in the 4-1/2-year-old murder case.

McPhillips said if the judge grants Rector’s wish to represent himself, that he intends to try Rector at his trial currently set for next April and will not continue the trial if Rector decides at the last minute to be assigned another attorney.

McPhillips also said there is no legal basis for a mental health evaluation since the defense attorneys previously said Rector was competent to stand trial.

Jantzen gave Rector a waiver of attorney form detailing the sentencing ranges of the charges if he is convicted at trial. Rector could face life in prison with or without the possibility of parole after 25 years if convicted of the murder charge. He also could face up to 21 years in prison if convicted of the kidnapping charge.

Jantzen asked Rector to consider his decision carefully, saying the charge are very serious. The judge set another hearing for Dec. 18. Rector’s murder trial is set to begin April 29, with a pre-trial hearing set for April 5.

Jantzen also allowed the county’s Indigent Defense Services to appoint an attorney on a limited basis to meet with Rector before the Dec. 18 hearing. The judge denied the request for a mental evaluation.

Grogan-Cannella 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 nearby department store. When the parents returned, they called police after discovering the girl was missing from their Lakeside Drive home.

Grogan-Cannella’s partially clad 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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