Justin Rector sentenced to life for 2014 death of Bella Grogan-Cannella

The family of Isabella "Bella" Grogan-Cannella said justice was served after Justin James Rector pleaded guilty to her murder earlier this year. Rector was sentenced to life in prison. (Courtesy photo, file)

The family of Isabella "Bella" Grogan-Cannella said justice was served after Justin James Rector pleaded guilty to her murder earlier this year. Rector was sentenced to life in prison. (Courtesy photo, file)

BULLHEAD CITY, Ariz. — After an agonizing four years, 10 months and 10 days, the family of eight-year-old Isabella “Bella” Grogan-Cannella can finally sleep soundly.

After a drawn out court case, a judge ruled July 11 that Justin James Rector could not withdraw his guilty plea and was sentenced to life in prison.

Rector pleaded guilty in December to first-degree murder in an agreement with prosecutors, who dropped charges of kidnapping, child abuse, abandonment of a body and assault charges against him. A month later, he sought to withdraw the plea, arguing that it was unjust and that his attorneys kept information from him.

Sue Winchester, a longtime Tusayan resident and Bella’s grandmother, said at Rector’s sentencing that her grand-daughter, trusting to the very end, wasn’t done living or loving.

“The court ruled no manifest of justice,” Winchester said. “Almost five years!”

Winchester assumed guardianship of Bella’s sisters and brothers shortly after crime, and said Kaylee, who was the last family member to see Bella alive, has been to many counseling sessions and read a letter to the court as part of her healing process.

“He (Rector) doesnt have to live with the fact that someone was taken from him,” Kaylee wrote. “He doesn’t under stand the pain me and my family have been through. Bella meant the world to me.”

The path to justice has been long, but in its wake, Winchester has been driven in her dream to build a solid, loving home and support system for foster kids, never more steadfast in her belief that something positive could come from such a horrible act.

She’s raised money to build Bella’s Place and continues to move forward, relocating from Tusayan to Red Lake last year. With room now for Bella’s siblings, who were fostered by Winchester before she formally adopted them, Winchester plans to build on to the home to support even more foster children.

Bella’s older sister Alexus said the family’s life hasn’t been the same since her sister was murdered. She called her sister a firework.

“There is so much about Bella no one will ever know,” Alexus said. “I don’t believe in getting even, but I do believe after five years our family deserves justice.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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