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Florida Handyman Guilty In 2018 Rape And Murder Of Girlfriend’s Teen Daughter

Robert Kern Jr. was convicted of raping and murdering his girlfriend's teenage daughter, Justis Garrett, in 2018 after he was tasked with dropping her off at school.

By Dorian Geiger
A police handout of Robert Kern Jr.

A Florida man will spend the rest of his life behind bars for the sexual assault killing of his girlfriend’s teenage daughter more than four years ago. 

Robert Kern Jr., 43, was found guilty by a jury in Volusia County on Monday in the 2018 first-degree murder of his then-girlfriend’s 16-year-old daughter, Justis Marie Garrett, according to CBS affiliate WKMG-TV. He was also convicted and sentenced to an additional concurrent five-year prison term on an evidence tampering charge for attempting to cover up his crime.

“This was a complicated circumstantial case,” 7th Judicial Circuit State Attorney R.J. Larizza said in a statement, per WKMG. “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.”

Kern didn’t testify during the trial and his defense counsel didn’t call any witnesses to testify on his behalf.

Kern was tasked with driving Garrett to a high school in Mount Dora on April 13, 2018 after she missed her bus, prosecutors said at trial. Instead, he drove the teenager in his Ford Explorer to a wooded area in Volusia County, then raped and killed her. 

“Robert Kern on April 13, 2018, kidnapped and raped and murdered Justis Garrett and the state has proven that beyond a reasonable doubt,” Assistant State Attorney Megan Upchurch said during the trial’s closing statements, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal. 

Garrett last used her phone at 6:48 a.m. that morning to post a selfie to Snapchat, prosecutors said, and Kern texted her mother at 7:26 a.m. that he'd dropped her off at school, the paper reported. But the girl never made it to school, and Kern's cell phone records showed that he was nowhere near the school when he sent the message.

Prosecutors suspect Kern possibly drugged or physically incapacitated the teenager prior to killing her, noting a fracture to her nose.

From 8:12 until 9:17 a.m. Garrett's phone remained stationary in the area where her body was eventually found.

“We know that at this point she is raped,” Upchurch added. “We know she’s killed.” 

Garrett's phone started moving again at 9:17 a.m, and pinged off the same tower as Kern's near where her body was found later that morning. Eventually, prosecutors say, Kern drove to the girl's high school before turning her phone off and getting rid of it. He convinced her mom, who he was dating, not to immediately report her daughter missing and later to tell police she was with him when they both took Garrett to school.

Cell phone data shows Kern returned to the site where he'd left Garrett's body three days later, where prosecutors say he poured bleach on her.

Garrett’s decomposing body was found four days after her disappearance by joggers near a dirt road in the woods, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported. According to prosecutors, because of decomposition and animal activity, it’s unclear how the 16-year-old died, but her death was ruled a homicide.

Her pants were left pulled down around her ankles, her shirt and bra were pulled up around her neck and her hoodie was tightly tied around her head.

Kern was arrested for Garrett’s killing in New York in May 2019. He’d denied killing the girl, insisting he’d dropped her off at school on the day she vanished. Kern also further lied to detectives, claiming he’d been performing a carpentry job the same day, according to state investigators.

Prosecutors discovered he'd attempted to catfish the teenage on Instagram in February 2018, and searched for how to drug people as well as for pornography related to incest and rape shortly before the murder.

At trial, his legal counsel argued the state had zero DNA evidence to support that Garrett had been sexually assaulted or other proof showing the teen was drugged. 

"The evidence in this case is overwhelming and the overwhelming evidence in this case shows that Robert Kern, sitting right here is the one who murdered Justis,” Prosecutors Jason Lewis also said in court. "He raped her. He kidnapped her. He took her into the woods. Every piece of evidence points to that."

Kern’s attorneys, assistant public defenders Adam Dala and Cameron Brown, weren’t immediately available for comment when contacted by Oxygen.com on Tuesday afternoon.

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