Jury deliberations at AJ Armstrong murder trial underway

By Brandon Walker - Reporter, Aaron Barker - Senior Digital Editor

HOUSTON - A jury began deliberations Wednesday at the trial of A.J. Armstrong.

Armstrong, 19, is accused of killing his parents in July 2016.

During closing arguments, John Brewer, prosecutor, told jurors the case against Armstrong comes down to common sense. 

"Use your common sense and you will get to the solution," Brewer told jurors. 

Brewer argued that Armstrong is a convincing liar and that he was upset over decisions by his parents about school and money. 

Armstrong watched as prosecutors summed up what they say was a trail of lies, all detailed in the trove of texts and other messages extracted from Armstrong's mobile devices. 

"Go look at the messages. Because it's communications. It's who this family was and what was going on," said prosecutor Farheen Ansari Roche. 

The texts are central to the prosecution's case because they argue they prove AJ was in trouble: poor grades, speeding tickets, possibly smoking weed. Prosecutors told jurors those examples do not establish a motive. Instead, they provide context:  examples of a liar, the state contends -- a manipulator who knew what he wanted. 

"What you didn't know is he is a manipulator. He is a liar," Brewer said. 

Brewer also told jurors that much of the evidence presented -- Armstrong delaying his call to 911 the morning of the shooting and the fact that he was the last person seen with the murder weapon -- was uncontested by the defense.

But the defense has claimed Armstrong's very existence as a suspect is based on a confirmation bias. Rick DeToto, Armstrong's defense attorney, argued Houston police zeroed in on AJ in haste, neglecting to properly investigate, for example, Armstrong's oldest brother, Joshua Armstrong. 

The defense also argued the trove of text messages admitted into evidence, tens of thousands of pages, are void of context.

What they show, DeToto said, is a 16-year-old getting into 16-year-old-related trouble.  

"He's not a perfect kid. Never said he was an angel. But they're asking you to take that and jump over to killing two people," DeToto said. 

During their closing arguments, defense attorneys pointed to what they called incomplete evidence that had been presented to jurors. They also recounted testimony from Armstrong's younger sister who said their oldest brother has been acting strange and getting into arguments with his mother and stepfather in the weeks leading up to the homicides.

"If you're going to execute your mom and dad while they're asleep in their bed, does common sense tell you there would be some sign before? Some type of anger," DeToto contended. 
Armstrong never testified. 

KPRC2 legal analyst Brian Wice said the texts will prove key in the deliberation room. 

"This is a case where the most compelling evidence of guilt from what I could see sitting through these final arguments comes from... the defendant himself," Wice said. 

The jury wrapped up deliberations Wednesday evening and will resume deliberating at 9 a.m. Thursday.

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