HOUSTON – Pre-trial motions began Wednesday in the case against Antonio “A.J.” Armstrong, the man accused of shooting and killing his parents at their southwest Houston home six years ago.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys are gearing up for a third trial for A.J., who was only 16 years old when his parents, former NFL player Antonio Armstrong Sr. and Dawn Armstrong, were murdered as they quietly slept at their home in the 5300 block of Palmetto Street on July 28, 2016.
A.J. said there was a masked person in the house, according to audio of the 911 call he made to the police. Prosecutors said his claims were all a lie.
Prosecutors intended to show that A.J. was embroiled in conflict with his parents over failing grades and poor behavior. They said that the murders were committed by someone who was already inside the home, claiming that neither the burglar alarm system nor any other evidence showed signs of forced entry.
The first mistrial was declared in 2019 because, after three days of deliberation, the jury back then could not reach a unanimous decision. Eight jurors believed A.J. was guilty, but four jurors voted not guilty.
In October 2022, during the second trial, a judge ruled another mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a verdict in the capital murder case. In that case, defense attorneys pointed out inaccuracies with the family’s home alarm system and even presented evidence that A.J.’s older brother could have been the killer.
Just as in the first trial, it was a hung jury. Unwilling to let go, the District Attorney’s Office pushed for another trial.
Jury selection for this round will begin on Feb. 24. The trial is scheduled to begin on March 20.
“We are ready. I told you guys a long time ago; they need to pack a lunch we are ready to go. We know this case inside out. It doesn’t matter when we are tried,” said defense attorney Rick Detoto. “Obviously, this family has been waiting for six years with the cost of delays and all of the stuff that has occurred in the case.”
A.J.’s supportive grandparents continue to stand by his side. Keith Wylie, Dawn Armstrong’s father, and Mrs. Kay, Antonio Sr.’s mother, spoke on behalf of their families.
“We can’t move on with our lives, and we can’t forget what we’ve been through because of the DA and HPD, and their mishandling of this case. It’s time for the DA to do the right thing and let A.J. and our family move on with our lives,” the grieving grandparents read in a joint statement.
The state declined to give a statement to KPRC 2.
KPRC 2 also spoke with Legal Analyst Brian Wice and asked him the following question regarding the case:
With six years of media coverage of the case, how hard will it be to find an impartial jury?
Wice doesn’t think years of media coverage will tarnish a potential jury pool. While it’s highly likely jurors will have had knowledge of the case before being selected, awareness isn’t wrong. Rather, potential biases within a jury pool are. Fishing those out is the point of jury selection, for which Judge Kelli Johnson has scheduled an entire day in February.
“[Judge Johnson] has gone to great lengths to ensure through careful jury selection that those 12 folks and alternates in the box can decide this case on the facts presented in court,” Wice said.
What should be the prosecution’s approach the third time around?
The state placed significant attention on witness testimony that aimed to prove the home’s alarm system worked. Moreover, the prosecution worked to reinforce their belief that no one else could have entered the home.
Wice wouldn’t speculate on that, but said prosecutors may pay extra attention to jury selection, using information they learned from previous juries assigned to the case.
“Jury selection is clearly the most important part of any trial, and I think lead prosecutor John Jordan has learned a lot from the jury that he selected for the second trial,” Wice said.
Does Wice think Joshua Armstrong will testify?
Joshua Armstrong is the eldest son, whose alleged mental health and history came up during both trials.
Despite the defense pointing to the possibility Joshua Armstrong could have entered the home, sewing seeds of reasonable doubt, he has yet to take the stand.
Wice said that likely will remain the case.
“He’s that rare witness feared by both sides. Someone who is the quintessential wildcard. Neither side wants to take that chance of this witness blowing up in their face,” Wice said