New attorney in Bullhead City murder case files multiple motions

Justin James Rector

Justin James Rector

KINGMAN - The new attorney for death penalty defendant Justin James Rector hit the ground running Monday when he filed a plethora of court documents. They range from alerting the court he is on the case to asking Judge Lee Jantzen to consider possibly disqualifying himself from presiding at trial.

Attorneys Gerald Gavin and Ron Gilleo made it abundantly clear they were not accusing Jantzen of being biased against Rector, 26, who stands accused of murdering 8-year-old Bella Grogan-Cannella on Sept. 2.

"The defense harbors no ill will and makes no allegation against this particular judge," wrote the attorneys.

Gavin, an experienced death penalty defense attorney with an office in Mesa, in court papers said he would "make this request of any assigned judge," saying failure to do so would constitute ineffective assistance of counsel.

Such a finding, he said, would cause Mohave County to have to retry the case, "or worse, (cause) the execution of Mr. Rector."

"Courts, like Caesar's wife, must be not only virtuous but above suspicion," they wrote.

Specifically, the attorneys want Jantzen, among other things, to consider whether the 16 years he spent as a criminal prosecutor - 12 of them in Mohave County - might give him the appearance of bias or impropriety.

The mere fact Jantzen once worked as a prosecutor does not mean he couldn't remain impartial in his capacity as a judge.

Rector's attorneys also want the judge to disclose any statements that might indicate he has made up his mind about aspects of the case, or about the death penalty.

And while Rector does not belong to a minority group, the attorneys requested Jantzen to disclose whether he is a member of "any racially exclusive clubs," or clubs that don't allow minority members, and whether he has ever used derogatory language in reference to members of minority groups.

In other court documents filed Monday, Rector's defense attorneys requested Jantzen give them time to possibly challenge the indictment that charges Rector with first-degree murder and abandonment of a body.

The second count involves an allegation that Rector buried Cannella-Grogan in a shallow grave in a wash about a mile from her home after he allegedly strangled her.

The attorneys said they have not yet obtained court documents in the possession of Mohave County Public Defender Harry Moore, from whom Gavin took over for after Moore requested to withdraw from the case late last week.

The attorneys want to review the Mohave County Grand Jury transcripts to determine if there was any justification to challenge the indictment.

According to state law, Gavin and Gilleo would have to show the process denied Rector a substantial procedural right or that an insufficient number of qualified grand jurors concurred in the indictment.

State law, however, also mandates such challenges are made within 25 days after the indictment is handed down. Rector was indicted six months ago, on Sept. 11.

Gavin and Gilleo concede the time restriction "has long passed." They also argue, however, that Jantzen should grant their request "given the draconian punishment possible in this case."

In still other court documents the attorneys filed Monday were:

• A request that every hearing be recorded.

"The state is seeking to kill Mr. Rector," they wrote. "It is essential that a complete record is made of all proceedings in the event Mr. Rector is convicted."

• A request that Jantzen re-affirm Rector's constitutional rights to remain silent and to be represented by an attorney.

"Counsel is acutely aware of the word games and semantic interpretations employed by a small, aggressive breed of investigators, who take license in skirting the fact this defendant is represented by a lawyer," they wrote.

The request specifically applies to law enforcement officers and Mohave County Attorney investigators.

• A notice that defense attorneys will interview all of the state's witnesses prior to trial.