Criminal Justice

AJ Armstrong to face third capital murder trial over parents’ 2016 deaths

The Houston man is accused of killing his parents when he was a teenager in 2016. The first two trials ended with hung juries.

Harris County Courtroom
Lucio Vasquez/Houston Public Media
Pictured is a courtroom inside the Harris County Criminal Justice Center in Houston.

Antonio “A.J.” Armstrong Jr., accused of killing his parents as they slept in their Houston-area townhome when he was a teenager in 2016, will be tried a third time for capital murder, according to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.

Judge Kelli Johnson declared mistrials in the case earlier this fall and in 2019, with two different sets of jurors failing to reach a consensus about whether Armstrong Jr., now 23 years old, shot his parents to death during the early morning hours of July 29, 2016. If ultimately convicted in the deaths of Dawn and Antonio Armstrong Sr., the younger Armstrong would face a potential punishment of life in prison.

“Two people were murdered in the night, each shot in the head as they slept in their own bed; we will continue our fight for justice and we look forward to presenting all the evidence to jurors,” Dane Schiller, a spokesperson for Harris County DA Kim Ogg, said in a statement Tuesday.

The second mistrial was declared in late October. Armstrong Jr. remains out of jail on bond, according to Harris County court records, which lists the next court date related to the case as scheduled for Jan. 4, 2023.

Armstrong Jr.’s defense attorney, Rick DeToto, criticized prosecutors for continuing to pursue a conviction after two hung juries. Jurors in October could not reach a unanimous verdict after hearing more than 33 hours of testimony and deliberating for nearly 18 hours, according to court documents, which show the initial jury in 2019 heard more than 38 hours of testimony and deliberated for more than 19 hours.

“It has been six years, two trials, hundreds of investigative hours, countless witnesses, no evidence and, more importantly, 12 jurors who believed A.J. was not guilty,” said DeToto, referring to his client by his nickname. “The Harris County District Attorney’s Office has lost evidence and the Houston Police Department has refused to fully and fairly investigate this case. The district attorney has sent her best prosecutors with their best arguments and they failed, both times, to convince a jury. All of A.J.’s family supports him and believes in his innocence, yet the state continues to persecute A.J.”

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 on July 29, 2016, 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 Bellaire-area 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 theorized Armstrong Jr.’s estranged older brother could have committed the murders.

“While we are disappointed in the decision (to try the case again), we look forward to presenting the evidence to a third jury, proving that A.J. is innocent of this crime,” DeToto said. “We will not stop fighting for A.J.”

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