KINGMAN — Both attorneys argued Thursday a motion allowing a Bullhead City murder suspect to withdraw from his plea agreement.
Justin James Rector, 31, is charged with the kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Isabella Grogan-Cannella in September 2014.
Deputy Mohave County Attorney Greg McPhillips argued to deny Rector’s motion to withdraw from his plea agreement based on three points.
First, the prosecutor argued that Rector can’t withdraw from the plea agreement since he was representing himself at the time. Rector also can’t show a manifest injustice since his previous attorneys acted in a reasonable manner. Rector also can’t show prejudice since he asked several times to accept the plea agreement.
Rector’s defense attorney, Dan Kaiser of Flagstaff, called a corrections officer to the stand who testified that he wrote a report in December 2018 about the inventory in a box of documents given to Rector at the jail.
Rector’s previous attorney, Quinn Jolly, also took the stand to testify that in the six months that he was on the case, he didn’t receive all the disclosure and he recalled going over some of the scientific findings with Rector. There was no mitigation done in the three years prior to Jolly taking the case. Jolly was lead counsel from August 2017 to February 2018 when McPhillips withdrew the death penalty.
Mitigation factors would take the death penalty off the table.
The two-day evidentiary hearing before Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen is expected to conclude today.
Another previous Rector attorney, Julia Cassels, withdrew from the case in December 2018 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 the judge to withdraw from his plea agreement after he received a mitigation report, which showed evidence that he believed could provide doubt to a jury of his guilt.
Emails between Cassels and the mitigation specialist 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 Grogan-Cannella 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, 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 also charged with three counts of aggravated assault in his second case for allegedly assaulting a detention officer July 17, 2017 in his jail cell.