Defense hopes to avoid 'circus' atmosphere in Kingman murder trial

Justin James Rector

Justin James Rector

KINGMAN - The attorneys for a man who could face the death penalty if convicted in the Sept. 2 strangulation death of a Bullhead City girl filed court papers that seek to have him appear in court wearing civilian clothing and unrestrained in all hearings leading up to and including his trial.

Defense attorneys Gerald Gavin and Ron Gilleo claim fears the media would turn the case against Justin James Rector into a "circus-like atmosphere" that would deny Rector his right to a fair trial.

Prosecutor Greg McPhillips in his response asked Judge Lee Jantzen to deny the request, saying Rector has no right to appear in court sans jail clothing until his trial begins.

But defense attorneys said media coverage of Rector wearing jail garb and restraints has the potential to create harm.

"Some media disseminate salacious stories to garner station ratings, or readership with print media from consumers' interest in morbid and unusual entertainment," the men wrote.

The attorneys referenced the recent death penalty case against Jody Arias in Phoenix and the fact reporters in their stories commented on her appearance. They argued "sensationalized 'news'" would taint the jury pool.

When 8-year-old Bella Grogan-Cannella went missing and was later found dead, the story was widely reported throughout the region and drew some national attention. Her partially clothed body was found buried in a shallow grave in a wash about a mile from her home.

Rector was arrested and Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith later announced his office would seek the death penalty.

The Miner and other media outlets requested cameras be allowed in the courtroom. Jantzen denied the request at a hearing early in the process, before Gavin and Gilleo were appointed to take over the case when Mohave County Public Defender Harry Moore had to withdraw due to a conflict of interest.

McPhillips in his response said the request that Rector wear street clothes and no restraints was not the law, which states defendants in criminal proceedings have the right to wear civilian clothing and non-visible restraints only when jury selection begins and then at trial. Pretrial matters, where a jury hasn't even been summoned, do not apply, he said.

As for their request that Rector not be shackled, McPhillips said the Mohave County jail will use non-visible restraints, such as a shock collar or leg brace that limits his movement, only when he appears in front of jurors.

McPhillips said the pretrial publicity concerns the defense attorneys cite are flawed, saying the argument is not based in law or fact. "It is purely speculative as it assumes that every potential juror in the county is following the media coverage or attending every hearing in which defendant is visibly restrained and in jail garb," he wrote.

Rector at his several court hearings has worn the orange- and white-striped jail clothes, and has been handcuffed and shackled. McPhillips also said jail personnel have him wear a form of body armor under his jail shirt for his own protection.

In another matter, Gavin and Gilleo filed court papers that seek the names and addresses of any informants working for the state.

McPhillips in a tersely worded response said there are no "jailhouse snitches" on the Rector case and that the defense attorneys' request was premature.

McPhillips requested Jantzen to admonish defense attorneys regarding the high volume of court filings. He said the normal course of action is for the two sides to attempt to work together on settling routine matters and filing papers should only be done when they can't resolve an issue.

Rector's next scheduled hearing is Wednesday.

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