HOUSTON – Friday is day 5 of Antonio Armstrong Jr.’s third murder re-trial.
We’re picking up where we left off, speaking with former HPD crime scene unit investigator, now sergeant, Jimmy James, after Judge Kelli Johnson decided to suddenly break early on Day 4.
From Day 1 through Day 4, several things were discovered during opening statements from prosecutors, the defense team, and the first set of witnesses.
Previous Blog Entries:
The new DNA evidence that caused a delay at the start of the trial took the spotlight, but other important details were also discussed.
We heard a lot about AJ’s brother, Josh Armstrong’s, mental health, the residence’s alarm system, and the Houston Police Department’s response and investigation.
KPRC 2 will be live daily inside the courtroom and will document new details along with everything you should know.
Aug. 4 - 4:00 p.m.
Judge Johnson ended court for the day due to a chain of custody issue. Court will resume Monday at 8:30 a.m.
Aug. 4 - 3:39 p.m.
Nathan Gates returned to the stand as the final witness of the day. On Day 2 of AJ’s third capital murder re-trial, Gates testified. He works for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office in the digital forensics investigation unit.
Since learning more information and hearing the testimony of HPD Sgt. Jimmy Jones, Gates was brought back to give his testimony on the extraction of the iPad, which was part of Jones’ evidence, and found in AJ’s room on the side of his bed.
From previous testimony with Gates, we learned of several text message exchanges between AJ, his girlfriend and his mother and father. In one of the text message exchanges, AJ was telling his girlfriend that his phone was being confiscated by his parents due to him playing with matches and catching the carpet on fire. On the iPad that was taken into evidence, one day after AJ sent the text to his girlfriend, there was a login into his iCloud from the iPad. On July 27, an email was recovered, which showed someone on the iPad searching: “How can a car be rigged to explode when started,” on Yahoo. A screenshot of the results was also stored on the iPad and recovered by Gates.
Aug. 4 - 3:06 p.m.
The 17th witness was called to the stand, Dr. Ana Lopez, the assistant medical examiner for the Houston Forensic Center.
Prosecutors showed images from Dawn’s autopsy and had Lopez explain what everything meant. During this time, AJ could be heard getting emotional. His attorney then covered his body from the audience and handed him a box of tissue. This continued for the remainder of his mother’s autopsy reading. This was the first time during the five-day trial he has become emotional in court.
Dr. Lopez said Dawn was shot twice, once in the right ear and the second time just behind her right ear. One of the bullets went through and through and exited on the left side of her head. Dawn died as a result of two gunshot wounds to the head. It was labeled as a homicide.
The next autopsy breakdown was Antonio Sr.
He was shot one time on the top right side of his head. He had two wounds on his head, one showing where the bullet entered and the next was a partial exit wound.
GSR was tested on Antonio Sr.’s head but was not found, which Lopez said let her know the shooter was at least 2.5 to 3 feet away during the shooting. Antonio Sr. died from a gunshot wound to the head.
Aug. 4 - 1:52 p.m.
The 16th witness was called, Jason Schroeder, the director of the trace lab at Houston Forensic Science Center.
Here are the main takeaways from his testimony:
- Familiar with gunshot residue (GSR). Said GSR contains three elements: Barium, antimony and lead.
- Said when a gun is shot, all three combine and create GSR
- GSR cannot positively identify a suspect
- The absence of GSR does not mean someone could not have found shot the gun
- 22 caliber (the weapon used in the shooting) does not usually contain GSR
- Antonio Sr.’s 22 caliber was not tested for GSR
- No GSR found on AJ’s sister
- No GSR found on Josh
- No GSR found on AJ
Aug. 4 - 1:19 p.m.
The 15th witness is called to the stand, Chandler Bassett, a firearms examiner with the Houston Forensic Science Center. He was in charge of examining the firearm found at the Armstrong residence.
During his examination, he said he fired the weapon found at the Armstrong residence to compare it to the bullets and evidence found inside the residence.
He testified that the bullets found inside Antonio Sr.’s drawer were inconclusive to the bullets used in the crime. He said this could be due to the bullets found in the crime being damaged during the shooting.
He also testified to there being a total of three tests conducted on Antonio Sr.’s firearm. The first one was done in Sept. 2016, the second in April 2018, and the third done on March 2020.
Aug. 4 - exact time not recording. Still morning.
The 14th witness was called to the stand, Deborah Lind, formerly with the Houston Forensic Science Center’s Developed Trace Department. Lind says trace evidence usually involves “very small things” such as gasoline or charcoal for arson.
The prosecution team pulled up the piece of carpet that included a burn stain from the evidence. Lind confirmed that was the piece of evidence she used during her analysis.
Lind said she had concerns with the way the evidence was brought in. She said in her analysis she found gasoline and rubbing alcohol on the sample carpet.
Aug. 4 - exact time not recording. Still morning.
The 13th witness was called to the stand, Rebecca Green, a manager over prints at the Houston Forensic Science Center.
Green said she examined one print found on Antonio Sr.’s ammunition box and the print did not match AJ, Josh or Antonio Sr. Do not know who the print belonged to... said it was possible the print could have come from the manufacturer or where it was sold.
Green said she and her team tried to find prints from the other pieces of evidence collected from the scene but didn’t find anything.
During cross-examination, AJ’s attorney clarifies that no prints were found on the gun that linked to AJ, his father, mother or sister to the crime. Also, clarified that no prints came back to AJ.
The prosecution team then asked, “Just because a person’s fingerprints are not on an item doesn’t mean they did not touch an item.” Green answered, “That’s correct.”
Aug. 4 - 11:08 a.m.
The 12th witness was called to the stand, Jonathan Petranek, a forensic scientist with Iowa Civil Contracting. He previously worked at Houston Forensic Science from 2017 - 2021.
Petranek said he was tasked with looking at the ammunition box found in Antonio Sr.’s room, several pieces of ammunition that were found in Antonio Sr.’s drawer and one separate piece of ammunition.
Petrank then went into detail about the process of inspecting evidence and extracting DNA or prints.
Aug. 4 - 9:10 a.m.
The defense started cross-examining Sgt. Jimmy Jones.
AJ’s attorney, Rick DeToto, started off his cross-examination by asking Jones about his duties at the crime scene on July 29, 2016. Jones stated he was partially responsible for securing evidence he found inside the Armstrong residence or pertaining to the case. He said homicide investigators were in control of the full investigation.
Here are some of the key takeaways from his testimony with AJ’s attorneys:
- Said at least seven times that his investigation or collection of evidence depended on information provided to him by homicide investigators
- In previous testimony, which he said he did not review prior to today, said he contained `100% of evidence from the scene. Today, he said, “It’s impossible to get 100% of evidence from any scene.” Says his testimony changed because now he’s more aware of things since taking on a leadership role as a sergeant.
- Testified that he did not investigate any of the vehicles located outside the Armstrong residence.
- Only swabbed three things: a lightswitch, Antonio Sr.’s drawer and another drawer located inside the residence
- Did not investigate/test blood found near the garage door. Said he was informed by homicide detectives that it was from HFD transporting Antonio Sr.
- Did not collect DNA from motion sensors or alarm systems
- Did not collect DNA from doorknobs anywhere inside or outside the Armstrong residence
- Only searched one garbage can, which was located outside of the home. Never looked into garbage cans located inside the home.
- Did not look into the washing machine that was located inside the kitchen area
- Did not go inside the garage and do a full search. Was not aware there was a spare room inside the garage
- Said at least 15 times that he, “had to verify police report,” from the night of July 29, 2016.
- When asked if he chose not to bring his police report today, the officer answered, “yes.”
- At least 20 times said it “depended on the case,” when asked questions specifically to this case. Judge Johnson eventually told him to speak directly about this case.
Judge Johnson recessed for 20 minutes - allowed the Sgt. to review his police report from July 29, 2016 so he could answer questions to the best of his ability.
- DeToto showed possibly chipped-off blood flakes located in the box where the pillows that were placed over the Armstrong parent’s head were placed
- Talked about interaction with Josh Armstrong on July 29. Said Josh was angry and irritated, which he refused to say before reviewing his report
- Admitted that another officer had to calm Josh Armstrong down
- Testified that Josh refused to answer questions relating to his parents or detail his whereabouts the morning of July 29, 2016.
- Bagged Josh’s Armstrong hands for GSR.
Aug. 4 - 8:40 a.m.
Houston Police Department Sgt. Jimmy Jones takes the stand for the second day in a row (a recap of his testimony from Day 4 can be found below.)
The prosecution team immediately picked up where they left off, showing images of the evidence collected at the Armstrong residence on July 29, 2016. Prosecutors continued to show the evidence to the jury in picture form and some in person. Here are some of the main pieces of evidence presented on Day 5:
- Match stick found on third floor of the residence in AJ’s room
- The trajectory from a bullet found underneath the carpet in AJ’s room where a hole was found, which matched the hole above the ceiling in his parent’s room
- Bullet hole found in comforter located in AJ’s closet
- Maroon pillow found with what police believe to be a bullet hole in the center of it
- Rubbing alcohol bottle found on AJ’s couch in-between pillows. Sgt. Jones said he took a picture of the bottle because it “seemed to be out of place.”
- Pillow found in a trash can located on the back patio of the residence. The pillow contained, what officers said to be a burn mark.
- Two iPads found on the side of AJ’s bed
- No water or staining found in any of the sinks or bathtubs located inside the entire residence
- Officer Jones did not search any other trash can located inside the Armstrong residence, did not thoroughly search the attic or garage, and did not look inside any of the closets (besides AJ’s) located inside Armstrong’s residence, according to his testimony.
Aug. 4 - 8:35 a.m.
The jury enters the courtroom.
Aug. 4 - 8:30 a.m.
Judge Johnson enters the courtroom and the court is called into order.
Aug. 3 - 4:00 p.m.
Judge Kelli Johnson breaks early. Court will begin Friday at 8:30 a.m.
Aug. 3 - 3:11 p.m.
The eleventh witness is called to the stand, Houston Police Department Sgt. Jimmy Jones. Jones, who has been with HPD for 12 years. He was assigned to the crime scene unit on the night of July 29, 2016.
Jones said he arrived at the Armstrong residence two hours after patrol officers arrived. He said his role as a crime scene officer was to collect and photograph all evidence from the scene.
During this time, prosecutors showed the jury a plethora of images Jones took of the crime scene. Some of the main pieces of evidence were also brought out in court, including the gun that was found on the kitchen counter, along with the handwritten note that read: “I’ve been watching you for a very long time.” The burned piece of carpet, the gun box located in Antonio Sr.’s drawer with bullets, and the pillows that were allegedly placed over Antonio Sr.’s and Dawn’s heads before the shootings.
When taking the pillows out of the box, the defense team asked to look into the box and keep the box for cross-examination. (IDuring opening statements, AJ’s lawyer claimed that the new DNA found possibly came from cross-contamination during one of the previous trials when a former prosecutor was handling the pillows, which Rick DeToto says has dried up blood on it that releases “flakes,” were held over AJ’s shirt.