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A.J. Armstrong's third capital murder trial will stay in Harris County, judge rules

Armstrong's first two trials in the 2016 killings of his parents ended in mistrials.

HOUSTON — The third capital murder trial of A.J. Armstrong will be held in Harris County after defense lawyers and prosecutors came to an agreement on Monday.

Armstrong Jr. is accused of killing his parents inside their Bellaire home in 2016. His first two trials ended in mistrials when jurors couldn't agree on a verdict.

On Friday, Judge Kelli Johnson filed for a change of venue saying she doesn't believe Armstrong can get a fair trial in Harris County.

Attorneys argued that the size of Harris County offers a better chance to find impartial jurors than a smaller city would.

NAACP leaders agreed.

"We don't want this trial moved somewhere people can't relate to diversity," NAACP President Bishop James Dixon said. "If we can't get a fair trial in Houston, it’s impossible to expect it elsewhere."

The two sides agreed to pick the jury through “individual voir dire." That means instead of questioning potential jurors in a big group, they'll be questioned one-on-one.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Feb. 24, but testimony won’t start until at  least March 20. Prosecutors asked for the gap because they worried about spring break and RodeoHouston inconveniencing jurors.

The judge said Monday that jury selection could take about six weeks.

Armstrong supporters, including his new wife, packed the courtroom Monday wearing "Free AJ" t-shirts. 

His uncle said his nephew is staying strong.

“He just wants his life back. He wants to be able to live his life with his newborn baby son, with his new wife," Howard Armstrong said. "I mean, it’s been taken away from him for the last six years. So, he wants this to be over.”

VIDEO: 59 banner calls for Armstrong charges to be dropped

What happened

Armstrong Jr. was 16 when prosecutors said he shot and killed his parents. Antonio Armstrong, Sr. and Dawn Armstrong were killed while they slept in their Bellaire home.

Armstrong Jr.'s first trial in 2019 ended in a mistrial when jurors couldn't agree on a verdict.

During the second trial, defense attorneys said eight jurors believed Armstrong Jr. was innocent and four thought he was guilty. In his first trial, it was the other way around with eight jurors believing he was guilty.

KHOU 11 spoke with a juror in the second trial. They said doubt created by the defense is what led to a hung jury.

“It just got to the point where I couldn’t even talk anymore," the juror said at the time. "Everyone kind of had their mind made up, but it was very frustrating to hear everyone say -- and I mean everyone, say, 'We know he’s not innocent but we still have doubt.'”

Family support

Family members have supported Armstrong since the beginning.

In an emotional interview following an earlier hearing, his grandparents pleaded for the district attorney's office to not continue with another trial.

"We have stood by our grandson’s side every day since 2016," said Armstrong Jr.'s grandfather, Keith Wiley. "Everyone in the family supports him and believes he’s innocent of the charges. Our family hurts and grieves."

Wiley said the family cannot move on as long as this murder case is hanging over their heads.

The victims

Armstrong Sr. played football for Texas A&M and the Miami Dolphins and coached both of his sons when they were younger.

He was an associate pastor, according to police. Dawn Armstrong's Facebook page said they "serve in ministry together."

The couple owned 1st Class Training in Bellaire and Armstrong Sr. was also a motivational speaker.

Family members have continued to support Antonio Armstrong Jr. throughout both of his trials and many were in the courtroom in October when the mistrial was announced.

Credit: Family photo
Dawn and Antonio Armstrong with son AJ

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