DeLAND, Florida—The man accused of raping and killing a Mount Dora High School student in 2018 was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life in prison Monday, according to 7th Judicial Circuit State Attorney R.J. Larizza’s office.
Justis Marie Garrett, 16, was reported missing April 13, 2018, after she failed to return home from Mount Dora High School that day, according to a charging affidavit. Her mother’s boyfriend, Robert Nixon Kern Jr. told his girlfriend and police that he took Justis from her home in Sorrento and dropped the girl off at school, but she never made it to any classes. Five days later, on April 18, Garrett’s decomposed body was found partially clothed in a wooded area off Gasline Road in DeLand. Bleach was found on her remains and her clothes.
DeLand Police Department investigated and found that Kern never dropped Justis off at school and instead cell phone records showed Kern’s phone and Justis’ phone traveled directly from Justis’ home in Sorrento to the area of Gasline Road in DeLand, where her body was found. Records also revealed Kern’s phone went to the crime scene on April 16, 2018, and stayed there for more than an hour, according to the affidavit.
Numerous pieces of physical evidence, including clothing and vegetation also linked Kern to the teenager’s murder.
In February 2019, Kern was arrested on fraud charges in New York and was later confronted with the evidence against him in Justis’ murder and questioned about a fake Instagram account “redneck_retarded” that he used to communicate with Justis in a sexual and romantic manner, posing as an 18-year-old, the affidavit states. Kern admitted his phone and email address were used to create the account, but said he allowed a 15-year-old boy to use the phone. Internet history on Kern’s phone also showed he searched terms such as “kidnapped” and “what are the best drugs to make someone unconscious, in addition to sexually explicit websites.
Soon after, Kern invoked his right to an attorney and stopped the interview. He was booked into the Volusia County Jail May 24, 2019, where he was held on no bond.
The jury of eight women and four men took less than 30 minutes Monday to convict Kern of first-degree murder and tampering with evidence, and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“This was a complicated circumstantial case. The defendant raped and murdered a 16-year-old child and left her body in a remote wooded area. The prosecutors prevailed and today we got Justice for Justis,” Larizza said in a statement.