Prosecutors say no more delays in trial of man accused of killing 8-year-old

Family and friends of Isabella "Bella" Grogan-Cannella gather at Bella's Place near Williams to raise a sign in her honor. (Erin Ford/WGCN)

Family and friends of Isabella "Bella" Grogan-Cannella gather at Bella's Place near Williams to raise a sign in her honor. (Erin Ford/WGCN)

BULLHEAD CITY, Ariz. — A man accused in the death of a Bullhead City child has yet to stand trial after more than four years, and Mohave County prosecutors are tired of waiting.

The trial of Justin Rector is scheduled to begin next April, but Phoenix attorney Julia Cassels is still attempting to gather expert witnesses to testify in Rector’s defense. Cassels is the latest attorney to take on Rector’s case, following the withdrawal of multiple defense attorneys’ withdrawal as counsel in 2016 and 2017.

Rector is accused in the death of 8-year-old Isabella Grogan-Canella, who was found strangled, partially-clothed and buried in a shallow grave in September 2014, according to prosecutors. Rector was a guest in the home of Canella’s mother and stepfather at the time of the alleged killing.

“I was appointed to this case in July 2016,” Cassels said. “In late February this year, I became the sole attorney in this case. I’ve absorbed the work of two attorneys, a paralegal and a mitigation specialist. When this was a death penalty case, there were five people working on it … now there are only two.”

Previous death penalty cases in Mohave County have cost Mohave County millions to pursue, and the cost of attempting such a case against Rector was cited among the reasons prosecutors chose not to seek the death penalty in February. Cassels is still attempting to gain access to testimony and evidence provided by the state to prior defenders.

“None of the delay is Justin’s fault,” Cassels said. “Attorneys withdrew two years into the case, and another withdrew three years into it. Justin has been in custody for four years and three months … the time has been very hard on Justin. He has very little opportunity to spend quality time with friends and family, and he misses his children.”

According to Cassels, she intends to obtain expert witness testimony in Rector’s defense before she interviews witnesses for the prosecution. According to Mohave County Deputy Attorney Greg McPhillips, the state has waited long enough.

There have been 15 status conferences in the case since Rector’s initial October 2016 trial date, and McPhillips on Thursday submitted a motion for Mohave County Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen to deny any further continuances.

“The defense’s refusal to set interviews is not a justification to continue (Rector’s) trial date,” McPhillips wrote. “The defense has not disclosed to the state names or addresses of witnesses the defense intends to call at trial.”

McPhillips says Rector’s defense has yet to disclose any of its expert witnesses to prosecutors, and asserted that there will be none at all.

“The defendant cannot continue the current trial date by choosing to refuse to retain experts or interview the state’s expert witnesses,” McPhillips wrote in his motion.

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