Jury selection began Monday for the third capital murder trial of Antonio "A.J." Armstrong Jr., the Houston man accused of shooting his parents to death when he was a teenager in 2016.
The selection process is expected to last weeks as prospective jurors are being interviewed individually instead of in a group as part of an agreement between defense attorneys for Armstrong Jr., the Harris County District Attorney's Office and Judge Kelli Johnson, who had suggested a change of venue because two previous juries could not reach verdicts and the case has received extensive media coverage. Johnson issued an order in January that prohibits attorneys in the case from speaking publicly about it outside of court filings and court hearings.
The prosecution and defense counsel clashed in a series of filings last week, with Armstrong Jr.'s defense attorneys asking for a hearing as well as a delay to jury selection while claiming that a juror in the second trial had an undisclosed dating relationship with an attorney in the DA's office, which they alleged constituted a violation of Armstrong Jr.'s right to a fair trial. Prosecutors responded with their own motion for continuance and referred to the defense's motion as "groundless" and in bad faith, saying the juror in question was an alternate and the attorney she dated has not worked as a prosecutor in the case.
Johnson denied the motion for a hearing about that matter and also denied the motions for continuance, which allowed jury selection to begin Monday as scheduled. The judge said the upcoming trial for Armstrong Jr., who was 16 at the time of his parents' deaths and is now 23, is expected to start in early June.
Johnson declared mistrials in 2019 and again in October of last year, with two different sets of jurors being unable to reach consensus on a verdict.
Armstrong Jr. is of accused of fatally shooting his parents, Dawn and Antonio Armstrong Sr., while they slept in their Bellaire-area home during the early hours of July 29, 2016. Armstrong Jr. would face a potential punishment of life in prison if ultimately convicted of their murder.
Dawn and Antonio Armstrong Sr., the latter of whom was an All-American football player at Texas A&M University before a brief career in the NFL, both were shot in the head with a .22-caliber pistol owned by Armstrong Sr., according to a probable cause affidavit filed in court. Their son, Armstrong Jr., called 911 on the morning they were shot. He said he was in a closet in his third-floor bedroom and had heard gunshots coming from his parents’ bedroom on the second floor on their home, court records show.
Responding officers found no signs of forced entry, or any open entry or exit points at the home, according to court documents, which show the murder weapon was left on a kitchen table on the first floor and was accompanied by a handwritten note that said, “I HAVE BEEN WATCHING FOR A LONG TIME. GET ME.” No fingerprints or DNA were found on the gun, court records show.
Investigators also found a bullet hole on the ceiling of the second floor, which corresponded to a hole on the floor of Armstrong Jr.’s bedroom that was covered with a pile of socks, according to the probable cause affidavit. A pillow and comforter with .22-caliber bullet holes also were found in Armstrong Jr.’s closet, according to court documents, with prosecutors alleging the findings illustrated that Armstrong Jr. had practiced using his father’s gun.
Among other arguments intended to establish reasonable doubt, defense attorneys in court have theorized Armstrong Jr.’s estranged older brother could have committed the murders.