Judge to set Rector trial date at next hearing

Justin James Rector

Justin James Rector

KINGMAN – Last week’s decision by prosecutors to withdraw the death penalty for Justin James Rector, who is accused of child kidnapping, rape and murder wasn’t well received by the public, but it’ll go a long way toward getting the trial started 3½ years after the crime was committed.

Mohave Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen on Tuesday ordered the next court hearing for March 23, at which time he plans to set a trial date.

The court cannot force the state to keep its intent to seek the death penalty for Rector, Jantzen said. The judge met briefly with attorneys from both sides and discussed the court’s position.

Jantzen told Rector that he’ll only be represented by one attorney instead of two now that the death penalty is off the table, and the mandatory obligation of having a mitigation specialist is also no longer in effect.

“Mr. Rector, you are to be represented by one counsel and the mitigation representative is going to be dismissed,” Jantzen said.

Public defender Quinn Jolly said he’ll withdraw from the case, leaving co-counsel Julia Cassels as Rector’s lone attorney.

“It is my desire to keep this case and continue to represent Justin,” Cassels told the judge. “I’ve been on the case for some time.”

Cassels was assigned to the case as second counsel in June 2016, following Ron Gilleo’s withdrawal due to a conflict of interest. Rector changed lawyers again in July following an “ethical conflict of interest” with defense attorney Gerald Gavin.

The discovery process, or gathering of evidence, in Rector’s case is voluminous, with some 1,250 pages provided by the state, along with hundreds of hours of recorded witness statements and interviews.

“The sheer amount of time counsel has invested in reviewing the discovery and becoming familiar with it is striking,” Cassels said in her motion to remain as counsel.

“A change in counsel would be devastating to Mr. Rector, as he has already had a series of replacements of his attorneys due to factors entirely out of his control.”

Jantzen asked if there was any need to discuss release conditions.

“I don’t think so. Nothing has changed from the state’s position,” prosecuting attorney Greg McPhillips answered.

Rector is charged with first-degree murder and other charges in the death of 8-year-old Bella Grogan-Cannella of Bullhead City in September 2014. The girl’s body was found in a shallow desert grave not far from her home, where Rector was staying.

The girl’s mother, Tonia Ann Grogan, and stepfather, Ralph Leroy Folster, are in prison on charges of dealing methamphetamine.