Justin James Rector gets life in prison for murder of 8-year-old Isabella Grogan-Cannella
KINGMAN – “We have waited five years to get justice for Bella, and today we finally get to sleep soundly knowing that our angel Bella gets justice.”
So read a statement from 8-year-old Isabella Grogan-Cannella’s sister at Justin James Rector’s judgment and sentencing hearing Friday, July 12. Isabella’s 18-year-old sister told the court that her little sister had been “nothing but smiles and laughs.”
Rector, 31, was sentenced to life in prison Friday for the first-degree murder of Isabella Grogan-Cannella of Bullhead City in September 2014 in an emotional proceeding that saw no shortage of tears from the families of both the victim and Rector, and Rector himself.
Rector was a guest in Isabella's home in 2014 when she was reported missing. Her body was found in a shallow grave nearby. Rector pleaded guilty in December 2018 to first-degree murder after deciding to represent himself in the case. Under the plea deal, charges of kidnapping and child abuse were dismissed.
Isabella’s 15-year-old sister said in a statement that she will never forgive Rector for what he did.
“Bella meant the world to me,” the statement read. “She made everyone smile, she made everyone laugh and every time she walked through the room she lit it up. I remember that I never got to say goodbye, and I hate that. All I want to know is why? Why her? She was an innocent little girl who didn’t deserve any of what he did to her.”
Rector wiped away tears as his family spoke and continued to do so as he spoke to the court.
“I want to say that I’m sorry,” he said. “Bella was innocent. Bella didn’t deserve what happened to her.”
Numerous members of Rector’s family, including his sister, daughter and father, proclaimed Rector’s innocence. However, his sister and father said that he could have played a part. Rector’s attorney, Daniel Kaiser, said he has “a lot of doubts” about what actually occurred that day.
Prosecutor Greg McPhillips said the state would have won if the case had gone to trial, in part because of witness testimony.
“I want to hear exactly what happened,” his father said. “When someone accuses your son or your daughter or anyone in your family, that’s the first thing you want to know is what happened. To this day, I still haven’t seen that. I do not believe my son did this.”
Isabella’s grandmother provided a statement that was written as if it were actually drafted by the murdered child. It read, in part, “Each moment was so important. There was so much to learn and see, so many people that I had to meet. I wasn’t sure why I lived so fast, but it was important to me. Now I know, I had to live a whole life in eight short years.”
Rector was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 35 years. He cannot appeal, as he entered a guilty plea, but has 90 days to file a notice of post-conviction relief.