Rector death penalty trial postponed again until after June 2 status hearing

28-year-old Bullhead City man faces death penalty in case of Isabella Grogan-Cannella, 8

Isabella Grogan-Cannella

Isabella Grogan-Cannella

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Justin James Rector

KINGMAN – The May 1 trial date for accused child kidnapper and murderer Justin James Rector was postponed Friday by Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen to give both sides more time to prepare for the death penalty case.

Jantzen he’ll “remain heartened” that a new trial date can be set at June 2 status hearing, as the case has dragged on for 2½ years.

Rector, 28, is charged with the September 2014 kidnapping, child abuse and first-degree murder of Isabella Grogan-Cannella of Bullhead City and burying the 8-year-old girl’s body in a shallow desert grave about a quarter-mile from her home.

Rector had been staying with the girl’s mother, Tania Ann Grogan, and stepfather, Ralph Folster III, who were later arrested for selling methamphetamine and heroine from their home.

Defense attorney Gerald Gavin said the most important and slowest process for the trial is gathering the necessary documents and lining up expert witnesses. Otherwise the case could be appealed to the Supreme Court, like other death penalty appeals that claimed the defense counsel was “not up to par,” he said.

Gavin told Jantzen he had 95 percent of the records needed to move forward with the trial, and that some records would be coming in right up to the trial date.

He suggested that the court get the first set of “mitigation experts” on board for interviews. One of them has been cleared for interviews as early as Monday.

“I realize you’re working on a calendar and you don’t want this case to linger,” Gavin said. “We want to make sure we get it right the first time.”

The judge said the defense has the right to due process, but he has a responsibility to move the case along.

“I want the parties to really think about what we’re doing on that date (June 2) so we can get some certainty,” Jantzen said.

Mohave County Deputy Attorney Greg McPhillips said he’s been in contact with the defense team via email about available dates for expert interviews and wasn’t able to coordinate with them.

“As a prosecutor, I don’t know if we’re going to do a mental evaluation,” McPhillips said. “I think the (May 1) trial date is unrealistic. I don’t know what the trial date is.”

He also responded to the judge’s inquiry about notes from the Mohave County Medical Examiner, explaining that changes in personnel have made it difficult to obtain documents to be used as evidence in the case.

The medical examiner first reported no physical evidence that the girl had been sexually assaulted, but it was later revealed that her hymen was missing and there were hemorrhages in her vagina.

Grogan-Cannella was last seen about 11:30 p.m. on Sept. 2, 2014, by her older sister, who was going to the bathroom. The children’s mother and stepfather were not home at the time, and the children were being watched by their grandmother.

Detectives questioned Rector the next day about the girl’s disappearance and found his alibi to be false. He reportedly stole a set of new clothes from Walmart and tossed his old clothes. Investigators linked shoe prints at the grave site to Rector’s shoes.