Convicted killer Justin Cornell sentenced to 40 years

13News Now Eric Kane has the story

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WVEC) -- A man convicted of killing and dismembering his ex-girlfriend in 2015, and dumping her remains in the Great Dismal Swamp will spend four decades in prison.

Before he was sentenced, Cornell again told the judge he was innocent and hoped to one day be exonerated.

Circuit Court Judge William O'Brien said he had "no doubt" Cornell committed the "horrific" crime, and gave him the sentence the jury recommended after convicting him of second degree murder in May.

Cornell's supporters cried in court listening to his mother, uncle and longtime friends defend the man they consider to be wrongfully convicted.

"I will say that I'm extremely disappointed," said Christine Cornell, the defendant's mother, outside court. "There was no malice here. You know it's really sad to think that anybody could be set up. All you have to do is put a little garbage with the body."

During the trial, prosecutors did not offer a motive for the killing, or say exactly how Armstrong died.

But police detectives were able to link Cornell's cell phone to the area where a jogger discovered Armstrong's remains, which were cut up and put in trash bags.

Investigators also found evidence, including blood, inside Cornell's apartment which matched materials recovered at Cornell's apartment.

Armstrong's husband and the rest of her family were present during Wednesday's sentencing. The 43-year-old's cousin, Alicia Holmes, said the family is confident the right person is behind bars.

"We believe the state's attorneys office has the right person in custody," Holmes told reporters. "He is being held accountable. And in the future he will not be a menace to society. And that is the greatest wish that we could wish that it wouldn't happen to somebody else."

Armstrong and Cornell grew closer as the two worked together at a spa.

Police said the two worked together at a spa when Armstrong disappeared in May of last year.

Armstrong's husband last saw her on May 7. He did not realize that Armstrong went to Cornell's Apartment off Newtown Road that night. Her husband reported her missing May 8.

When Virginia Beach police went to Cornell’s apartment to interview him, the doors and windows were open.  Officers found clothing that belonged to Armstrong as well as knives and swords throughout the apartment. Investigators saw a large stain on the hallway carpet.

Cornell denied he saw Armstrong shortly before police talked to him. Eventually, he acknowledged he saw her on May 7.

Investigators later found receipts for cleaning supplies and a carpet cleaner in the apartment.

Six days after Armstrong's husband reported her missing, police recovered Armstrong's car from a shopping center next to Cornell's apartment complex. 

Officers found Armstrong's remains in the Great Dismal Swamp on May 31, 2015. She had been decapitated, and her body had been severed at the joints.

Prosecutors pointed out that Cornell was a massage therapist and had extensive training in human anatomy. He had posters depicting diagrams of the muscles and bones of the human body hanging in his apartment.

Police found items that belonged to Cornell with Armstrong’s remains. The items included a receipt with his name and address as well as underwear that contained Cornell’s DNA.

Detectives also found green, plastic particles that were consistent with a Christmas tree found in Cornell’s home.  A small blood stain that had Armstrong’s DNA was in the carpet in Cornell’s apartment.

A search of Cornell’s phone showed that he did a Google Maps search of the exact location where police recovered Armstrong's remains just seven hours before they found them.

In addition to imposing prison time, the judge ordered Cornell to pay a fine of $100,000.


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