- Associated Press - Friday, July 12, 2019

KINGMAN, Ariz. (AP) - A Bullhead City man has been sentenced to life in prison in the death of an 8-year-old girl, a day after a judge rejected his request to withdraw his guilty plea.

Justin Rector, 31, was a guest in Isabella Grogan-Cannella’s home when she was reported missing in September 2014. Her partially clothed body was found in a shallow grave near her home the next day.

The case has taken numerous turns since, including a decision by prosecutors not to seek the death penalty and delays as Rector’s legal team changed. At one point, Rector represented himself.

He 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.

A Mohave County judge rejected the arguments Thursday and sentenced Rector on Friday.

The judge heard statements from Isabella’s family who remembered her smile and her ability to make people laugh, the Kingman Daily Miner reported.

A medical examiner determined the girl had been strangled. A police detective testified in a 2016 court hearing that authorities had evidence she was sexually assaulted.

The loss of Isabella is terrible not only to her family but to Bullhead City, a small community along the Colorado River on the Arizona-Nevada state line, prosecutor Greg McPhillips said Friday.

“I’m glad for the victims that there’s a resolution,” he said. “I think it’s important we got a resolution.”

Rector’s family cast doubt over the role Rector played in Isabella’s death. Rector wiped away tears as they spoke and as he apologized.

“I want to say that I’m sorry,” he said, according to the Kingman newspaper. “Bella was innocent. Bella didn’t deserve what happened to her.”

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