HOUSTON - A Houston teen suspected of killing his parents adamantly maintained his innocence throughout a nearly hourlong interrogation by Houston Police Department homicide detectives, according to an audio recording of the interrogation tape played Thursday on day three of the capital murder trial.
Antonio Armstrong Jr., 19, is accused of fatally shooting Antonio Armstrong Sr. and Dawn Armstrong as the couple slept in their bedroom on July 29, 2016. Armstrong Jr. was 16 years old at the time of the shooting.
Homicide investigators took Armstrong into custody shortly after police responded to the 911 call Armstrong made to report the shooting. During the call, he said he saw a masked intruder in the home after hearing gunshots from his parents’ bedroom. Hours later, the teen doubled down on that during his interrogation at Houston police headquarters.
Jurors listened to the audio recording Thursday during the testimony of Sgt. Kenneth Daignault, one of the detectives who questioned the teen that morning.
“But how do you, how does that person get out of the house?” asked Daignault, referring to the masked intruder Armstrong said he saw.
“I don't know,” Armstrong said. “But, like, I don't know why everyone is assuming that I'm the person that let them in and let them out.”
Investigators also asked Armstrong to describe his relationship with his parents. The teen could be heard saying their relationship was good, although detectives brought up previous disciplinary concerns in an attempt to discredit him.
Detectives then turned to Armstrong’s call to 911, first telling the teen: “Your parents both had been shot. And you're very calm on the phone. That's not normal,” Daignault said.
“I was crying, but, like, my brother calmed me down. I was bawling, crying coming out of the house,” Armstrong said.
Detectives also questioned Armstrong’s prior experience with guns, referencing an apparent bullet hole in Armstrong’s bedroom floor, which pierced the ceiling of a study connected to his parents’ bedroom.
Investigators noticed the bullet hole in the ceiling, as well as the bullet, which remained on the floor.
The bullet came from the same gun used to kill Dawn and Antonio Armstrong Sr., investigators said, later determining the gun belonged to Armstrong Sr.
During the interrogation, Armstrong Jr. initially said he lacked experience with guns and had not touched one since he visited a shooting range when he was 8 years old. The teen later retracted that claim when investigators pushed back, questioning the bullet hole in his bedroom floor, the audio recording revealed.
Armstrong then said he had fired the shot two or three weeks prior, claiming he thought it was weird his parents had not noticed the bullet on the floor of their study.
“Like, 'cause they, like, go in and out of that room a lot, so, like, I don’t know how you don’t see a bullet on the ground,” the teen told detectives.
“But, outside of that, like, two to three weeks, I’ve never, like, touched my dad’s, like, last night I didn’t touch my dad’s gun,” Armstrong said during the recording.
Throughout the interrogation, Armstrong insisted he was innocent, telling detectives tests would back him up.
Still, investigators were not convinced.
Later in the recording, the teen said: "I know it doesn't look good. I don't know what else I need to say to, like, let you guys know that I didn't do it, I had nothing to do with this."
The fact that Armstrong could be heard multiple times maintaining his innocence speaks volumes, according to his defense attorneys, who addressed reporters after court concluded Thursday.
“He’s got nothing to hide,” said Rick DeToto.
“One thing that you can get out of that statement is that A.J. consistently told that detective, 'You’re going to find no evidence of me in this case. You’re going to find no evidence that I was involved regarding gunshot residue, DNA, blood, anywhere.' He constantly told that detective that, and it turned out to be true. It turned out to be accurate that none of that evidence existed,” DeToto said.
The defense said the interrogation proved detectives had made up their minds about Armstrong, despite a lack of evidence.
“They basically railroaded him,” said Chris Collings, an attorney on Armstrong’s defense team. “He was 16 years old. He was facing a situation where he’d just lost his parents. He really didn’t understand the legal consequences. That clearly was not explained to him.”
A portion of Daignault’s testimony threw a monkey wrench into the day’s proceedings after he said something he should not have. The detective said that a crack pipe had been found in Armstrong Jr.’s bedroom, but later testing proved that claim to be false: There were no drugs in or on the item.
During pretrial proceedings, it was decided that any reference of the item would not be used during trial, as it was ruled to be erroneous.
The mention of the item enraged the defense, who asked the judge to declare a mistrial. The judge even took a step away from the bench to consider the ruling, but ultimately decided not to.
Instead, she ordered the jury to strike that information from their testimony notes, as it's erroneous information.
"We're seeing HPD has problems following the rules. They're violating court orders and putting stuff in front of the jury that's not supposed to be there. So, not only are we fighting their allegations, we're also fighting their dirty conduct," said DeToto.
Court resumes Friday with the defense’s cross-examination of Daignault.
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