A convicted sex offender has been charged with murdering a 12-year-old Florida girl whose body was found in a creek last week.
The girl disappeared from outside her family’s Pensacola apartment in May. A fisherman found the body of Naomi Jones five days later.
Robert Letroy Howard, 38, who was dating a woman in the apartment complex where Naomi lived, was arrested Thursday, Escambia County Chief Deputy Chip Simmons said.
“We have caught our monster,” Simmons told reporters at a press conference. “We have caught the killer that took Naomi’s life.”
Howard is facing charges of first degree premeditated murder, kidnapping and failure to register as a sex offender.
According to Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan, surveillance video captured Howard by the creek where Naomi’s body was found.
“Howard could not provide a viable alibi of his whereabouts during the disappearance of Naomi,” Morgan said.
Howard has been on the Alabama Sex Offender Registry since 1999 after being convicted of two counts of sexual assault and rape involving a 19-year-old victim. He was jailed 15 years for the offenses.
A report made by the sheriff’s office indicates Howard told investigators he “had nothing to do with killing Naomi Jones” and was in Alabama at the time. Morgan said detectives determined that was “false information.”
Naomi disappeared after she and her siblings returned home from an afternoon walk on May 31. She left behind her cellphone, keys and purse at her home.
Authorities said the girl was active on social media prior to her disappearance and that “tech surveillance” was “critical” in solving the case. However, investigators have declined to confirm whether Howard used social media to communicate with the victim.
“He was not unknown to our victim,” Morgan said, without elaborating.
Authorities said they believe Naomi was killed within 24 to 36 hours of her disappearance. The medical examiner determined that the death was probably due to asphyxiation.
Howard, who is being held behind bars without bond, is scheduled to appear in court on June 30.
Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille said their office is likely to seek the death penalty.
Howard’s sister, Althea Walker, told WKRG News that she disagrees with the way the sheriff’s office portrayed her brother.
“I want people to know he is not a monster,” Walker said.
The sheriff, who said investigators believe Howard acted alone, warned parents to be mindful of their children’s activities.
“Please be parents,” Morgan said. “Your children are carrying a handheld computer. It just happens to double as a cellphone … There are predators out there [and] you can’t protect your children from this unless you parent. That’s part of your job.”
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.