Criminal Justice

AJ Armstrong files federal lawsuit against the City of Houston as jury deliberates his fate in third capital murder trial

The federal lawsuit accuses HPD officers of planting evidence just days before Armstrong’s third trial was set to begin in June. That evidence would eventually become a focal point of Armstrong’s third trial.


Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Attorney Randall Kallinen discusses a federal lawsuit filed against the City of Houston on behalf of Antonio "AJ" Armstrong Jr. during a press conference on August 16, 2023.

After a years-long legal battle and two mistrials, a man accused of killing his parents in 2016 has filed a federal lawsuit accusing the Houston Police Department of allegedly planting evidence in an effort to push forward a false conviction.

This comes as a new set of jurors continue to deliberate whether to convict 23-year-old Antonio “AJ” Armstrong Jr. for the murder his parents, Dawn and Antonio Armstrong Sr. Court records say the couple was shot in the head with a .22-caliber pistol owned Armstrong’s father while they slept in the family's Bellaire-area home on July 29, 2016.

The federal lawsuit, filed Tuesday, alleges that HPD officers planted false evidence just days before Armstrong’s third trial was set to begin in June. That evidence — DNA in the form of specks of blood — would eventually become a focal point through the duration of the two-week trial.

“The blood was planted by, or in conspiracy with, one or more persons at the HPD in order to try and convict Armstrong of capital murder and to taint his reputation in the mind of the public,” the lawsuit read.

Investigators say they found the blood under an adhesive name tag placed on Armstrong when he was brought in for questioning on the night of the murders.

However, during a press conference on Wednesday, Civil Rights Attorney Randall Kallinen claimed that HPD had a history of fabricating evidence and pointed to the infamous Harding Street raid in 2019, which left a couple dead and several officers injured. In the months that followed, an internal investigation found that two HPD officers concocted a fake story in order to obtain a search warrant.

“This planting of evidence ruins people’s lives,” Kallinen said. “Even in cases where the evidence is suppressed, or you’re found not guilty, or the case is dismissed, you still suffer immensely.”

Kallinen added that they’ll continue to pursue the lawsuit regardless of what the jury decides regarding Armstrong’s criminal case.

AJ Armstrong
Pool Feed
Antonio “AJ” Armstrong Jr. stands in a Harris County courtroom with Defense Attorney Chris Collings during closing remarks on August 15, 2023.

Throughout Armstrong’s trial, defense attorneys repeatedly dismissed the credibility of the newly-found evidence.

“There’s no blood at all on any of AJ’s clothes,” said Defense Attorney Chris Collings during closing remarks on Tuesday. “How in the world did two specks get under the sticker on the back of the badge if there’s no blood anywhere else?”

Instead, defense attorneys directed the attention towards Josh Armstrong, Armstrong’s older half-brother. The defense claimed that Josh suffered from paranoia and schizophrenia and argued that his condition could’ve led him to kill.

“We looked at multiple records throughout all different types of institutions relating to Josh and his delusional states believing he was either God or the Devil,” Collings said. “We know that he had command voices in his head that told him to harm himself or others.”

However, prosecutors argued that Josh’s condition began after the death of his parents and focused time analyzing the alarm system within the family’s home.

Prosecutors said the system was equipped with motion sensors that logged timestamps when motion was detected throughout the house. Using these timestamps, prosecutors argued that the killer came from within the house and that the murder weapon was placed on a kitchen table on the first floor about 30 minutes before Armstrong called the police.

“The killer did not come from the first floor of the house, he came from the second or the third floor, or else the first floor motion sensor would’ve caught him,” said Prosecutor Ryan Trask. “The alarm records and [Armstrong’s] cell phone activity tells us he was awake the entire time. What was he doing for 31 minutes?”

On the night of the murders, Armstrong, who was 16 years old at the time, told police that he hid in a closet on the third floor after he heard gunshots coming from his parents’ bedroom on the second floor of their home.

In the years that followed, Armstrong continued to maintain his innocence as defense attorneys argued on his behalf through two previous trials in 2019 and 2022, which were both declared mistrials after jurors couldn’t come to a unanimous decision.

If convicted, Armstrong will face life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years.

This story is ongoing and will be updated.

Read the full lawsuit below:

Lucio Vasquez

Lucio Vasquez

Newscast Producer

Lucio Vasquez is a newscast producer at Houston Public Media, NPR’s affiliate station in Houston, Texas. Over the last two years, he's covered a wide range of topics, from politics and immigration to culture and the arts. Lately, Lucio has focused his reporting primarily on public safety and criminal justice...

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