Defense rests at Armstrong trial after his sister's tearful testimony

HOUSTON – Closing arguments are scheduled to begin Wednesday in the trial of a Houston man accused of killing his parents.

Prosecutors allege A.J. Armstrong, 19, shot his parents, Antonio Sr. and Dawn, as they slept in July 2016. A.J. Armstrong was 16 at the time of the shooting. He maintains his innocence.   

His defense team rested Tuesday afternoon, having called nine witnesses. While A.J. Armstrong did not testify in his murder trial, his sister did.

Kayra Armstrong testified A.J. Armstrong and his parents had a strong and loving relationship, despite her brother getting into trouble about his grades, spending and alleged marijuana usage.   

While the defense asked Kayra Armstrong about her brother's demeanor in the weeks leading up to the shooting, their line of questioning focused more on what she had to say about her oldest brother, Joshua Armstrong. 

Kayra Armstrong testified Joshua Armstrong moved into the family home in May 2016 and moved out several weeks before the homicides. She said her brothers shared the third floor of the home during that time.

“When Josh came back from college, did you notice anything strange about him?” a defense attorney asked.

“He had (become) extremely, like, he was there, but he wasn’t there,” Kayra Armstrong replied. “He was kind of distant, and I observed he acted like he was the black sheep of the family.”

Joshua Armstrong is the biological son of Dawn Armstrong, which became a point of contention, Kayra Armstrong testified. She said arguments would break out between Joshua Armstrong, his mother and his stepfather.

“He had started using drugs a lot more,” Kayra Armstrong testified. “He started talking to himself a lot. He stayed in the restroom for hours.”

The defense then questioned Kayra Armstrong about the home’s alarm system, which investigators said showed no sign of entry the morning of the shooting. In fact, Kayra Armstrong said she set the alarm before going to bed the night of the homicides. She said it frequently malfunctioned.

“Sometimes the alarm was set when a door was still open, or sometimes it would go off unexpectedly,” Kayra Armstrong testified. “It was really finicky.”

She said she told the Houston police detective who questioned her about the alarm the same thing.

The defense also called A.J. Armstrong’s aunt to the stand. Renee Winston also testified Joshua’s behavior took a turn after he moved in with his family. Winston served as a nanny for A.J. and Kayra Armstrong when they were younger. She was also an employee at one of the gyms the Armstrongs owned.

During testimony, the defense aired surveillance video of a break-in at one of the Armstrongs' gyms. The incident occurred on August 10, 2016 -- two weeks after the shooting. The defense aired the video for jurors to see: questioning whether Antonio Sr. and Dawn were being targeted before the shooting.

The defense rested following Winston’s testimony, allowing for the prosecution to begin rebuttals.

Three witnesses testified for the prosecution during the rebuttal, including Kay Winston, A.J. Armstrong’s grandmother.

The fact that Kay Winston served as the prosecution’s witness marked a twist: by most accounts, she served as the family’s matriarch. She seemed more of a fit for the defense.  Still, Rick DeToto, A.J. Armstrong’s defense attorney, questioned Winston during cross-examination. Her testimony echoed Kayra Armstrong’s regarding Joshua Armstrong, the home’s alarm system and A.J. Armstrong’s relationship with his parents.

Neither A.J. Armstrong nor Joshua Armstrong testified. KPRC2 Reporter Brandon Walker questioned DeToto on the decision not to have A.J. Armstrong testify.  

DeToto responded: “A.J. wanted to testify. He wanted to tell his story, but based on our training and our experience in doing this for 21 years, we told him they haven’t proven their case. Things have gone well and we feel confident.”

Closing arguments are scheduled to begin Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.