Judge files motion to decide if AJ Armstrong's 3rd murder trial will be moved out of Harris County

Courtney Fischer Image
Thursday, January 19, 2023
Judge files motion to change venue for AJ Armstrong's 3rd murder trial
The judge ultimately decides, which is significant since she's already made her stance clear by filing the motion herself. ABC13's legal analyst said he's never seen a judge move for a change of venue.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A judge in the A.J. Armstrong murder case publicly said the court doesn't feel he can have a fair trial in Harris County and has filed a motion to change the venue of the third trial.

According to court paperwork, Judge Kelli Johnson filed a late motion, ordering a hearing to decide if the trial will be moved somewhere else.

SEE ALSO: 3rd capital murder trial for AJ Armstrong after 2 hung juries to begin in February, judge says

The matter has become significant because the judge is calling for this hearing, not the prosecution or the defense.

The motion filed does not guarantee that the trial will be moved, as both sides will get to make their cases for and against. The hearing is scheduled for Jan 30.

The judge will listen to arguments from both sides, but she's the one who ultimately decides. This is significant because she has already made it clear she wants the trial moved by filing the motion herself.

It's rare for a judge to move for a change of venue. ABC13's legal analyst, who's been practicing criminal law for about 20 years, says he's never seen it.

"I can't recall a single time when I saw a judge move on his or her own motion," legal analyst Steve Shellist said. "But I will tell you, by the simple fact that she filed her own motion, should tell everyone which direction she's likely headed."

"You're saying this is 99% likely not going to happen in Houston?" ABC13 reporter Courtney Fischer asked. "If I were a betting man, I would bet that it gets transferred," Shellist said.

This is just another twist in the six-and-a-half year saga that is the A.J. Armstrong case. A.J. stood trial twice in Harris County for the 2016 murders of his parents, Dawn and Antonio Armstrong Sr. Both times, jurors were unable to decide if he was guilty or not guilty.

Here is a breakdown of the last two juries:

  • 2019: Eight said A.J. was guilty, and four said he was not guilty
  • 2022: Four said A.J. was guilty, and eight said he was not guilty

SEE ALSO: 'I didn't do it:' Accused killer A.J. Armstrong tells his story

Right now, jury selection for the trial is scheduled for Feb. 24.

Eyewitness News reached out to A.J.'s defense team and the prosecutors, but they both declined to comment.

So far, there has been no mention of where the trial could happen -- whether it could be held in a county that surrounds Houston or across the state. We'll learn more when the hearing happens on Jan. 30.

Since a final decision has not been made, it's unclear where it could be held.

For news updates, follow Courtney Fischer on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Look back on the original case below