On Friday, Justin Keith Cornell of Chesapeake, Virginia, was convicted of slaughtering his girlfriend, Brianna Armstrong.
Approximately one year ago, Brianna Armstrong went missing from her home. Armstrong’s husband, Corey Creek, reported her missing on May 9, 2015. She was last seen two days before that at the home of Justin Cornell.
At the time, Creek was unaware of his wife being in a romantic relationship with Cornell and had no reason to search for her at his home.
Brianna Armstrong and Justin Cornell worked together at a spa in Chesapeake, Virginia, called Knuckles & Knots. Other employees of the spa indicated that Armstrong was friendly and outgoing while Cornell was described as quiet and withdrawn.
“Brianna was very bubbly, always hugging everyone,” Sylvia Steele, a massage therapist, told the Virginia Pilot. “Justin was a quiet person and kept to himself.”
No one knew that Brianna had entered into a romantic relationship with Justin Cornell, however, until his arrest in June 2015.
At the end of May, last year, Brianna Armstrong’s body was found by a bicyclist riding by the Great Dismal Swamp.
The bicyclist found a garbage bag containing the disarticulated pieces of Armstrong’s body and called the authorities.
An autopsy report released in September 2015 indicated that Justin Cornell had allegedly decapitated and dismembered Armstrong. The report stated that she also suffered post-mortem mutilation, but that the actual cause of death was undetermined.
Justin Cornell was denied bail and held at the Virginia Beach Correctional Center.
During the trial, officials introduced 132 different pieces of evidence to support the hypothesis that Justin Cornell was responsible for the murder of Brianna Armstrong.
The most damning piece of evidence was that the most recent Google Map search on a phone belonging to Justin Cornell showed the exact location in the Great Dismal Swamp where Armstrong’s body was found. Damning though it was, it was hardly the only heavy piece of evidence found.
Where the bicyclist found the body, officials had also found a receipt from a psychiatric office that had the personal information of Justin Cornell all over it, cleaners, a shower curtain, and a pair of boxers that had DNA belonging to Cornell on them. As a less important factor, the garbage bags found at the scene of the body recovery were the same used by Cornell.
In his apartment, officials found that Justin Cornell was an avid collector of weaponry and found that 14 martial arts knives could have been used to disarticulate Armstrong’s body. They also found a blood stain and clothing that belonged to Brianna.
The disarticulation was professionally done, the way a medically trained person would amputate a bad limb. As a massage therapist, Justin Cornell had the training necessary to be able to cause that kind of professional damage to Armstrong’s body.
The jury took only an hour to find Justin Cornell guilty and roughly 20 minutes to come up with a sentence.
Cornell was found guilty of second-degree murder and is facing up to 40 years in prison with an added fine of $100,000.
His mother was in the room when he was found guilty and wailed that he was innocent.
“Justin is innocent,” the mother of Justin Cornell told WAVY. “He was convicted when the Medical Examiner does not even know the cause of death.”
The conviction should give Brianna Armstrong’s loved ones some closure, but it cannot change the nature of the tragedy.
“You think if maybe I had noticed something, we could have averted the tragedy,” Mark Harris, the former boss of Armstrong and Cornell, said to WTKR when Cornell was arrested. “… You start questioning, you know, if there was anything you could have done … The whole thing has been really surreal and horrific for everyone here.”
[Photo by Chesapeake Police]