HOUSTON – A former coach of the 19-year-old man accused of killing his parents broke down on the witness stand Monday, describing the ordeal as a “tough situation.”
Stephen Hill served as assistant athletic director and head football coach at The Kinkaid School when A.J. Armstrong was enrolled in middle school at the private school.
Hill testified for the prosecution Monday, describing Armstrong as a star athlete whose athleticism was exceptional, even at an early age.
“He had a lot of confidence in his ability,” Hill said, referring to Armstrong as a standout on the football team.
Hill was the first witness, of the nearly two dozen to testify for the prosecution, who knew AJ Armstrong and could address his character.
Hill also testified he and Antonio Armstrong had developed a friendship over the years.
“He and I got really close and talked about what AJ needed to get to the next level,” Hill said.
Hill had moved on by the time AJ Armstrong became a standout on the varsity football team. Still, he remained in contact with Antonio Sr., leading up to the family’s decision to pull AJ from The Kinkaid School, after he'd completed his junior year in the spring of 2016.
AJ was set to attend Lamar High School that fall.
"All I knew is Antonio texted me and said AJ had failed out and they needed a new home," Hill testified during cross-examination.
Hill then became emotional at the witness stand, describing the ordeal as a “tough situation.”
The prosecution's focus seemed centered on establishing a reason as to why AJ would kill his parents. The first witness testimony to establish an apparent motive: Could it have been that AJ was upset to leave The Kinkaid School, a private school, where he was a prep football standout, to attend Lamar High School?
Lamar, part of the Houston Independent School District, is a public school, with a larger student body, including a larger football program.
Armstrong’s defense considered that theory to be a stretch and asked Hill if AJ ever exhibited aggression toward anyone.
“You ever saw Antonio Jr. get into an argument with his dad,” asked Rick DeToto, Armstrong’s defense attorney.
“No,” Hill replied.
The defense then asked Hill to estimate tuition costs at Kinkaid, to which Hill testified $30,000 a year.
Hill also testified that he wanted AJ to play for him at St. Pius X High School, where worked as head football coach at the time AJ’s parents decided to pull him out of Lamar.
Hill said he even heard from AJ regarding the matter.
"Antonio (Jr.) asked what would it be to get him in and asked if I could get some help," Hill testified.
“What kind of help,” asked the defense.
“Financial help,” Hill replied.
Prior to Hill’s testimony, the prosecution called three other witnesses to testify, including two specialists from the Harris County Institute of Forensic Science.
Lucy Tea, a firearms examiner, tested a cartridge, bullet and gun to see if the three were related -- if bullets and their respective cartridges found on scene belonged to the murder weapon: a pistol owned by Armstrong Sr.
Tea testified her research could not confirm if the bullet came from the gun, because of deformities on the bullet after it was fired. Her research did conclude the cartridge did match the gun, however.
Later, Jason Schroeder, trace lab manager, Harris County Institute of Forensic Science, shared his findings on testing for gunshot residue.
Schroeder testified he tested all three Armstrong siblings, including AJ. Each result came back negative.
A negative result, however, isn’t necessarily exculpatory, meaning it does not exonerate AJ, Schroeder testified. There are a number of reasons for that, Schroeder testified, including the type of ammunition used.
The trial will resume Tuesday morning. The prosecution is beginning to wrap up its case.