If state drops death penalty, Rector could go to trial next year

Justin James Rector

Justin James Rector

KINGMAN – They say the wheels of justice turn slowly, and in the case of first-degree murder defendant Justin James Rector, you can hear them screeching.

Rector, accused of the September 2014 kidnap, sexual assault and murder of 8-year-old Bella Grogan-Cannella, appeared Friday before Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen for his 21st pretrial hearing.

He’s facing three new felony charges for aggravated assault following a recent jailhouse fight, and has requested that his lead defense attorney, Gerald Gavin, withdraw from his case due to an “ethical conflict of interest.”

“Obviously, I don’t want to create a delay for Mr. Rector. I’m sick (of it), but there’s nothing I can do. I’m forced to withdraw. There’s no way around it,” Gavin told the judge.

Jantzen granted the motion to let Gavin go and search for a new defense attorney, setting the next hearing for Sept. 22. The judge said he receives motions to dismiss counsel all the time, but he didn’t want to dig into why this is happening now.

“You talk about Mr. Rector’s rights. There are other people’s rights in this courtroom,” Jantzen said.

Jantzen has been in contact with Mohave County’s indigent defense administrator about finding someone who can move Rector’s case forward without starting from scratch. It’s not back to the starting point, but “we’re losing ground,” he said.

“A lot of work has already been done. It doesn’t have to be redone,” Jantzen said. “I know I get grief from my son who reads the newspaper about this case and he doesn’t have a dog in the fight.”

Meanwhile, Julia Cassels, who has worked on the case for months and is deep into the disclosure of evidence, will take the lead in the case.

She told the judge she just received a box of transcripts that were completed, but there are still some lingering discovery issues over completeness from prior counsel.

Cassels said prosecuting and defense attorneys can straighten out the voluminous 1,000 pages of discovery evidence while they wait for a new defense counsel to be appointed.

If the state were to drop the death penalty in the case, defense counsel would be prepared to go forward with a first-degree murder trial next year, Cassels added.