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Rector sentencing vacated, judge sets evidentiary hearing

January 30, 2019 GMT

Judge Lee Jantzen has set Justin James Rector’s motion to withdraw from his plea agreement for an evidentiary hearing in light of the defendant’s claim that his previous counsels intentionally withheld disclosure from him.

Rector wrote a letter to the court claiming that his previous counsels withheld disclosure information such as physical and forensic testing results. Up until a few days ago, and after he changed his plea to guilty, Rector said he hadn’t been provided that information.

“I don’t want to drag this case out any longer, I want to be sentenced on Wednesday,” Rector said. “I just feel that I was treated unfairly, and I want it to be on record that I was.”

Rector is charged with murdering 8-year-old Isabella Grogan-Cannella of Bullhead City in September 2014. Thirty-year-old Rector was a guest in Isabella’s home when she was reported missing. Her body was found in a shallow grave nearby.

Rector had pleaded guilty in December to first-degree murder after deciding to represent himself in the case. Under the plea deal, charges of kidnapping and child abuse were dismissed.

“My position probably at this point is going to be that we’re probably going to need to have an evidentiary hearing,” said prosecutor Greg McPhillips. “There are some fairly specific claims that were made in the letter. I think we probably ought to know what those claims are.”

He said even if Rector’s claims are true, the state would take the position that Rector should not be let out of the plea agreement. McPhillips said those claims, even if true, are not exculpatory, which means favorable to the defendant. However, Judge Jantzen said he would need to make that determination for himself.

Rector’s judgement and sentencing scheduled for Wednesday was vacated. An evidentiary hearing in Rector’s case is now set for 9 a.m. March 4.