Justin James Rector wants to represent himself at trial
KINGMAN – There’s a saying about someone who represents themselves in court having a fool for a client, and Mohave County Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen repeated it in several different ways Tuesday for Justin James Rector, who is set to go to trial for first-degree murder.
In a hearing continued from last week, Rector told the judge he wants to be his own lawyer.
“I would like to represent myself in both cases, if that’s possible,” Rector said in the first few minutes of the hearing.
Jantzen asked Rector if he’d ever represented himself in court, and Rector responded that he had not.
“You have the right under the Constitution to represent yourself and there are many reasons you shouldn’t represent yourself in a complicated case,” the judge said.
Rector is charged with kidnapping, raping and murdering 8-year-old Bella Grogan-Cannella of Bullhead City in September 2014. He also faces charges of aggravated assault on a detention officer at the jail.
Julia Cassels of Phoenix was his third lead defense attorney after previous attorneys pulled out over conflicts of interest.
Greg McPhillips, prosecuting attorney for the State of Arizona, took no position on the issue of Rector representing himself, but was adamant in saying that the state will not delay his current April 29 trial date.
“One thing I’d remind Mr. Rector is the victim has a right to a speedy trial,” he said. “The state has to intention of continuing that date. Even if Mr. Rector decides to represent himself, that would be the trial date.”
A lot of times the defendant changes their mind on the day of the trial and wants representation, which puts the attorney “behind the 8-ball” and delays the trial, McPhillips said.
Cassels said she had a conversation with Rector a couple months ago about representing himself, and that he was “firm in his decision.”
She did express concerns about Rector’s mental competence, and felt that a mental health evaluation would be appropriate. Rector has a background of known mental health issues.
McPhillips said mental health records were never disclosed to the state, and there was previously a Rule 11 hearing to determine Rector’s competency to stand trial, though it was a long time ago.
Cassels spoke about 7,000 pages of documents and 15 boxes of evidence that would have to be made available to Rector at Mohave County Jail. She also asked McPhillips about Rector’s handwritten diary that was given to police and purports to give details of the horrific incident.
Jantzen gave Rector a waiver form to take back to the jail and told him to read it four or five times, but not to sign it until he returns to court on Dec. 18. The judge wants him to sign the form in his presence.
Jantzen related one of his recent cases in which an attorney represented himself in a civil case and ended up owing $8 million to the plaintiff.
“It’s extremely important that you make an informed decision,” Jantzen said to Rector, who is facing life in prison if convicted.