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'All of a sudden, oops': AJ Armstrong attorney in federal lawsuit suggests blood evidence in criminal trial was planted

The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday, the day the jury started deliberating in Armstrong Jr.'s third capital murder trial for the 2016 shooting deaths of his parents.

HOUSTON — As jurors deliberate Antonio Armstrong Jr.'s fate in his third capital murder trial, the attorney in his federal lawsuit alleging police planted evidence in the case spoke out Wednesday. 

Armstrong Jr. is of killing his parents, Antonio Armstrong Sr. and Dawn Armstrong, in their Bellaire-area home in 2016.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday by attorney Randall Kallinen focuses on two blood spots found this summer on an HPD visitor badge that was stuck to Armstrong Jr.'s shirt on the night of the killings. It was in an evidence box with other items. 

The blood evidence, which wasn't presented in the first two trials, came up in the third trial. Kallinen alleges it was planted there by someone with the Houston Police Department in collaboration with them.

In the lawsuit, Kallinen said the prosecutor told jurors in opening statements that Armstrong Sr.'s DNA was on the back of Armstrong Jr.'s name tag that was placed on him at HPD.  

Houston police officers testified that they saw no blood on Armstrong's shirt the night of his arrest or afterward when he was interviewed by detectives.

"They all testified in court they saw no DNA evidence. So how is it all of a sudden, oops, here's the DNA evidence," Kallinen said Wednesday at a news conference with Armstrong family members outside the HPD property room. 

The lawsuit alleges, "...the blood was planted by, or in conspiracy with, one or more persons at the HPD in order to try and convict Armstrong of capital murder and to taint his reputation in the mind of the public."  It also said HPD has a history of planting evidence. It pointed to the deadly Harding Street raid that led to criminal charges against former HPD officer Gerald Goines. 

Kallinen said he waited to file the lawsuit until the jury was sequestered so it wouldn't impact the trial. 

“Whether there’s a verdict of guilty or not guilty, everybody has a right to not have evidence planted against them," he said. “This planting evidence ruins people’s lives. Even in cases where the evidence is suppressed or you’re found not guilty or the case is dismissed, you still suffer immensely.”

Prosecutors said their blood spatter expert found the blood drops on the sticker a few days before the third trial was scheduled to start in June. 

"And what she found underneath that badge we now know, is Antonio Sr.'s blood," prosecutor Ryan Trask said in closing arguments Tuesday. "And why is his father's blood on his clothes when, according to the defendant, he never went in and checked on them (his parents)."

Trask said the blood wasn't something they expected to find.

"We didn't need it, we were prepared to go forward to this jury without it. But we had a duty to test it," Trask said. "And the defense agreed, as well, to test it and see what it was so we can present you with the truth."

The new evidence delayed the trial for several weeks. 

Family members, including Armstrong's wife, mother-in-law and maternal grandparents, attended the news conference but are not speaking publicly until there is a verdict in the criminal case. 

Legal analysis

KHOU 11 legal analyst Carmen Roe offered insight into the lawsuit.

"This lawsuit came out during jury deliberations -- which may seem suspect but really I think it was the earliest opportunity to file the lawsuit and it’s really about preservation of the evidence -- that’s the subject matter of this lawsuit," she said.

The 51-page lawsuit lays out why Armstrong Jr. believes HPD planted the blood evidence on his shirt. Roe said it's going to be tough to prove.

"It’s going to be nearly impossible for them to show that one individual or individuals planted this evidence in this case but in this criminal trial, we’ve heard from HPD officers who say they never saw any blood on his shirt and somehow it gets there," Roe said.

The lawsuit also mentions other instances of HPD planting evidence, such as in the Harding Street raid in which two civilians were killed.

Roe said the lawsuit won't impact the verdict in Armstrong Jr.'s third capital murder trial.

"I think it’s important to note ... this jury is sequestered and while this federal lawsuit is a big deal that it’s filed right now, it’s also something these jurors will not know about or hear about until they are done with their deliberations," Roe said.

Members of the Armstrong family are planning to speak outside HPD's property room on Wednesday morning.

Armstrong Jr.'s first two trials ended in hung juries.

The lawsuit asks for undisclosed damages.

We've reached out to the City of Houston for comment, but have not heard back. 

You can read the full lawsuit here.

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