After enduring a span of seven years along with two mistrials, the Houston community witnessed a pivotal moment as Antonio “A.J.” Armstrong Jr., a resident of the city, was convicted for the heinous murder of his parents back in 2016. This deeply unsettling crime took place within the confines of their Bellaire-area townhome, where the unsuspecting victims slept.
The resounding conclusion arrived when a Harris County jury, following a prolonged 11-day period of witness testimonies and comprehensive arguments from both Armstrong Jr.’s defense team and prosecutors representing the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, rendered a unanimous guilty verdict. The trial had been one of high-profile, marred by the previous inability of two separate juries to reach a conclusive verdict in the years 2019 and 2022.
A.J. Armstrong Jr., a mere 16 years old at the time, committed an unfathomable act that resulted in the tragic loss of his parents, Dawn and Antonio Armstrong Sr., in the early hours of July 29, 2016. The verdict affirms that Armstrong Jr. shot them both in the head using his father’s .22-caliber pistol. For this chilling crime, he has been sentenced to life in prison, with a possibility of parole after 40 years.
This case’s third capital murder trial encountered a significant delay of nearly two months due to the emergence of previously undetected DNA evidence, which was brought to light by an expert witness working for the prosecution. The presence of minute blood traces was identified under the adhesive name tag that had been affixed to Armstrong Jr.’s attire when he was taken into police custody for questioning shortly after the murders. Subsequent analysis confirmed that this DNA was a match for that of Armstrong Sr.
This newfound evidence had the potential to reshape the dynamics of the case, especially in countering a theory put forth by the defense. This theory had proposed the possibility that Armstrong Jr.’s older half-brother might have been the perpetrator due to his proximity at the time of the incident and his history of mental health challenges.
One of the focal points of Armstrong Jr.’s defense was centered around the contention that police investigators inadequately questioned his older sibling. The defense asserted that the older brother, Josh, struggled with paranoia and schizophrenia, thereby suggesting that his condition could have driven him to commit such a grave act.
Chris Collings, a defense attorney, emphasized during the closing arguments, “We looked at multiple records throughout all different types of institutions relating to Josh and his delusional states believing he was either God or the Devil. We know that he had command voices in his head that told him to harm himself or others.”
However, prosecutors countered this narrative by establishing that Josh’s mental health concerns arose after the demise of their parents. Furthermore, they meticulously examined the alarm system installed within the family’s residence.
The prosecutors elucidated that the alarm system was equipped with motion sensors that recorded timestamps whenever motion was detected within the premises. Drawing from this data, they formulated an argument suggesting that the assailant originated from within the house itself. The prosecutors posited that the murder weapon had been deliberately placed on a kitchen table on the first floor approximately 30 minutes prior to Armstrong Jr.’s call to the police.
Ryan Trask, a prosecutor, asserted, “The killer did not come from the first floor of the house, he came from the second or the third floor, or else the first floor motion sensor would’ve caught him. The alarm records and (Armstrong’s) cell phone activity tells us he was awake the entire time. What was he doing for 31 minutes?”
On the fateful morning when his parents were tragically killed, Armstrong Jr. made a distress call to 911. He claimed that he had taken refuge in a closet located in his third-floor bedroom after hearing gunshots emanating from his parents’ second-floor bedroom. Responding officers, however, discovered no indications of forced entry or any unsealed entry or exit points within the home. This prompted them to speculate that the murderer was someone who was already present within the house. Notably, Armstrong Jr.’s younger sister was also within the home during the incident.
The firearm responsible for the murders was left resting on a kitchen table on the first floor. Accompanying it was a handwritten note bearing the ominous message, “I HAVE BEEN WATCHING FOR A LONG TIME. GET ME.” Intriguingly, no fingerprints or DNA traces were detected on the weapon, as confirmed by court records.
Additionally, investigators uncovered a bullet hole in the ceiling of the second floor, aligning with a corresponding hole on the floor of Armstrong Jr.’s bedroom, covered by a stack of socks. A pillow and comforter riddled with .22-caliber bullet holes were also discovered within Armstrong Jr.’s closet. Prosecutors argued that these findings substantiated the assertion that Armstrong Jr. had engaged in practice sessions with his father’s firearm.
The culmination of the third trial witnessed more than 40 hours of testimony from a multitude of witnesses across 31 sessions. The jury, having deliberated for just two days, eventually arrived at a decisive verdict, bringing closure to a protracted period of uncertainty and a deeply disturbing crime.