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Hearing set on Rector motion to withdraw from plea deal

May 19, 2019

KINGMAN — Both attorneys in a nearly 5-year-old Bullhead City murder case said they are ready to argue a motion allowing the defendant to withdraw from his plea agreement.

Justin James Rector, 30, is charged with the September 2014 kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Isabella Grogan-Cannella.

Again appearing by phone, defense attorney Dan Kaiser, of Flagstaff, said his main witness, a mitigation specialist used by Rector’s previous attorney, Julia Cassels, would not be available for an upcoming evidentiary hearing and suggested that she would be interviewed in a deposition.

However, Kaiser and Deputy Mohave County Attorney Greg McPhillips said they still would be ready for the July evidentiary hearing on Rector’s motion to withdraw from his plea agreement.

Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen affirmed the two-day evidentiary hearing to start July 11.

Cassels withdrew from the case in December after Rector asked to represent himself and agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder. Rector’s remaining charges in two cases would have been dismissed. He would have been sentenced to life in prison without parole for at least 35 years.

In January, Rector asked Jantzen to withdraw from his plea agreement after he received a mitigation report, which showed evidence that he believed could provide doubt of his guilt to a jury.

In emails between Cassels and the mitigation specialist, they reportedly asked to withhold forensic evidence and test results from Rector. Rector also asked to withdraw his request to represent himself and asked for a new attorney. Kaiser was assigned the case in March.

Grogan-Cannella and her then 10-year-old sister were left in Rector’s care on the night of Sept. 2, 2014. The sister discovered Bella had gone missing and alerted her parents, who were at a department store. When the parents returned home, they called police.

Rector allegedly strangled Grogan-Cannella with a soft ligature, possibly a shirt, and then, using a hand shovel, buried her body in a shallow grave near their Lakeside Drive home. He was arrested later that morning.

Rector is charged with three counts of aggravated assault in his second case for allegedly assaulting a detention officer July 17, 2017, in his jail cell in the Mohave County Adult Detention Facility in Kingman.

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