Rector murder case motions piling up

Bella Grogan-Cannella

Bella Grogan-Cannella

KINGMAN - The potential for courtroom drama in the case of a man accused of killing a child rapidly faded Wednesday when Judge Lee Jantzen said he would produce written orders regarding a couple dozen court documents that have been filed since March 9.

Defense attorneys Gerald Gavin and Ron Gilleo, on behalf of 26-year-old death row-eligible defendant Justin James Rector, have filed more than 12 requests with the court, nine of them on March 9. Prosecutor Greg McPhillips has responded to most of them and defense attorneys have responded to some of those responses.

Rector, of Bullhead City, allegedly strangled 8-year-old Bella Grogan-Cannella and buried her body in a shallow grave in a wash about a mile from her home on Sept. 2. He was allegedly under the influence of methamphetamine and other drugs. The Mohave County Medical Examiner found no evidence the girl was sexually assaulted.

The nature of the filings range from benign housekeeping matters to a potentially inflammatory request that Judge Lee Jantzen self-examine any potential biases he might have against Rector.

Jantzen did rule on the issue in a lighthearted way, saying of his significant time on the bench, "I've been called a lot of things." He said he would stay on the case.

Gavin said an unnamed media outlet reported the attorney had a personal problem with Jantzen, and assured the judge that wasn't the case.

While Jantzen said he would continue to preside at trial, he still had to review the issues raised in other filings. The judge acknowledged he hadn't had time to read each request. Since the file began to grow exponentially on March 9, Jantzen was either on vacation or in trial.

Gavin, who took over the case earlier this month after Mohave County Public Defender Harry Moore withdrew, apologized for the unusually high number of filings in such a short period of time.

"We're in catch-up mode," he said. "There's no real urgency, but these are basic motions that should have been filed six months ago."

Gavin also learned Jantzen appointed a mitigation specialist.

Such people are experts in mental health or sociology. They will evaluate Rector - essentially by looking deep into his history - in order to present mitigating circumstances to the court and attorneys. The goal is to convince everybody involved that the case deserves special consideration.

An appointment that won't be made anytime soon is with medical professionals who will be tasked with determining Rector's mental health.

Prosecutor Greg McPhillips on Wednesday reminded the court of the examination, which was supported by Moore when he was Rector's attorney.

Gavin has a different plan, apparently, and told Jantzen that Rector was in "no rush" to get a mental health examination. He said he wanted the results of the mitigation expert's examination before he requested the mental health exam.

Jantzen will likely issue what he admitted would be a lengthy order regarding the documents in the coming days. Any issues that require the attorneys to discuss it in open court will be done at the next status hearing, which the judge scheduled for May 6.