KINGMAN, Ariz. — A police detective has testified in a court hearing for a man accused of killing an 8-year-old Bullhead City girl two years ago that there was evidence the victim was sexually assaulted.
The Kingman Daily Miner (http://goo.gl/P7Tqdx ) and the Mohave Valley Daily News (http://goo.gl/dr6TuW ) report that detective Brandon Grasse testified Friday during a Mohave County Superior Court hearing in the case of Justin James Rector.
Prosecutors say they plan to seek the death penalty if Rector is convicted of first-degree murder in the September 2014 killing of Isabella “Bella” Grogan-Cannella. Rector is also charged with kidnapping, child abuse and abandonment of a dead body.
The girl’s partially clothed body was found in a shallow grave near her home.
Judge Lee Jantzen ruled during the hearing that prosecutors had established probable cause to seek a death sentence for Rector, if he is convicted of murder.
Circumstances cited for a death sentence included: the victim’s age being under age 15, the death being committed in a cruel or heinous manner and the defendant having committed a serious offense other than murder.
“Asphyxia due to strangulation,” Grasse said when asked by prosecutor Greg McPhillips during the hearing to comment on the autopsy and how the girl died. He also said there was evidence of sexual assault.
“It was cruel and it was horrible,” McPhillips said.
Rector’s attorney, Gerald Gavin, argued that there was no evidence of sexual abuse and there was no evidence the murder was cruel or heinous compared to other death row inmates whose victims were tortured over time. He argued that the girl was killed quickly, but he conceded that she was under age 15.
McPhillips countered that the girl’s death was cruel because of her young age and that she trusted Rector, a family friend, who had stayed with her family.
Gavin said he didn’t know Grasse was going to testify and requested a delay for time to question the detective’s testimony, but the judge declined.
“It’s time to move forward on this case,” Jantzen said.
However, Jantzen postponed the start of Rector’s trial from October to May 1, 2017.