HOUSTON — The second murder trial for a Houston teen accused of killing his parents in 2016 began Monday with jury selection.
It's been more than six years since former NFL linebacker Antonio Armstrong Sr. and his wife, Dawn, were shot and killed inside their southwest Houston home. It's been more than three years since Antonio Armstrong Jr.'s murder trial ended in a mistrial.
Now, he's facing murder charges for a second time. He's been out on bond for three years living with family members. His attorneys said he's ready to move on with his life, but that won't happen until after this trial.
The first trial ended in a hung jury -- 6 to 4 in favor of conviction. This time around, the jury will be made up of more people.
The selection process will last at least three days and the retrial is expected to last until at least Nov. 4.
Media publicity surrounding the case is part of the reason there’s a larger jury for the second trial. Eventually, 12 jurors and two alternates will be selected from hundreds of people.
On July 29, 2016, Antonio Armstrong Jr., also known as AJ, shot his parents while they slept inside the Bellaire home, according to investigators. He was 16 at the time. Now, he's 22 with a young child.
Harris County prosecutor John Brewer said Armstrong Jr. called 911 at 1:40 a.m. and told dispatchers he heard gunshots coming from his parents' room.
Armstrong Jr. blames an intruder for the shooting, but investigators said they found no evidence of forced entry into the house.
According to authorities, Dawn Armstrong was shot twice in her head and Armstrong Sr. had been shot once. They said both had pillows over their heads. Dawn Armstrong was pronounced dead at the scene while Armstrong Sr. was taken to an area hospital where he later died. Both were 42.
Armstrong Sr. was a motivational speaker. He and his wife owned 1st Class Training in Bellaire. Armstrong Sr. played football for Texas A&M and the Miami Dolphins and coached both of his sons when they were younger. Antonio Sr. was also an associate pastor, according to police. Dawn Armstrong's Facebook page said they "serve in ministry together."
Houston Police Sgt. J.P. Horelica said after discovering there was no forced entry and a bullet hole in the ceiling of the Armstrongs' bedroom, the focus shifted to Armstrong Jr. as a suspect. Brewer said a .22-caliber pistol was found on the kitchen counter along with a note. Also, Brewer said an upstairs motion detector caught movement at 1:09 a.m. Brewer said police found three shell casings in the master bedroom.
“The alarm tells us more than just the killer came from inside the house. The alarm tells us that the killer came from upstairs,” Brewer said when KHOU 11 News covered the story in 2019.
Legal expert's take
KHOU 11 News legal expert Carmen Roe shed some insight on the new jury format.
“Jury selection -- or voir dire -- is one of the most important aspects of a trial because, essentially, you’re deciding who is going to sit in the judgment in this case and this be almost more important because they’re going to ultimately decide the fate of this young man," Roe said.
Armstrong Jr.'s attorneys said they believe in their client's innocence.
“I’ve talked about this case for six years, I’ve done enough talking – you guys have heard all the evidence in this case, you’ve heard our arguments – we still believe in him very strongly, we believe in AJ’s innocence, we’re going to continue to fight for him and show that to the jury,” defense attorney Rick Detoto said.
They said Armstrong Jr.'s life has been on pause due to the lengthy legal process.
“Since his last trial, a lot has changed. AJ’s become a new father ... he’d like to get on with his family, his education and everything else he’s been deprived of,” defense attorney Chris Collings said.
A downstairs detector was activated at 1:25 a.m., however, the defense said HPD investigators focused on Armstrong Jr. as the killer without following all leads.
“Within 11 minutes of going into that house ... before any evidence was processed ... before they knew anything about the crime scene as far as forensics ... before anything, they made up their mind he did it," Armstrong Jr.’s defense attorney Rick Detoto said in 2019.
Detoto said there was no DNA or any other evidence linking Armstrong Jr. to the murders.
During cross-examination, HPD Sgt. Tavis Parkerson testified that another officer picked up the murder weapon, which may have contaminated evidence. In addition, Detoto said police failed to look into Armstrong Jr.’s older brother, Josh Armstrong, who has been in and out of psychiatric treatment.
Detoto said Josh Armstrong previously had suicidal and homicidal thoughts. They said Josh Armstrong lived less than 2 minutes from the crime scene and showed up at his parent's home on the night of the shooting.
The defense said Josh Armstrong had access to the home through a garage keypad. He also refused to answer police on where he was during the time of the killings and did not visit his dad at the hospital.
Detoto said those actions are red flags that police failed to look into. He said police are still trying to interview people about the case.
The first trial
Armstrong Jr.'s murder trial began on April 2, 2019. He was tried as an adult and was facing life in prison if he was found guilty. Due to Armstrong Jr.'s age at the time of the crime, a conviction will mean automatic life in prison with a minimum of 40 years to be eligible for parole.
During the first trial, Armstrong Jr. entered a not guilty plea before opening statements. The initial trial ended in a mistrial on April 26, 2019, when jurors weren't able to reach a unanimous decision in the case.
Armstrong Jr.'s second trial was supposed to begin in October 2019 but was postponed to January 2020. Days before it was set to begin, the trial was postponed yet again after more than 30 motions were filed in the case.