The mind state of A.J.'s brother, Josh, deteriorated following their parents' murder, an ex tearfully testified Friday.
HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A.J. Armstrong's text messages, iPad searches, and a call to 911 the morning his parents were shot to death in July 2016 took center stage on day four of his capital murder trial.
The day began with tense moments between defense attorney Rick DeToto cross-examining Houston Police Sgt. Jimmy James, a crime scene unit officer who photographed the Armstrong home and collected evidence for homicide detectives. James told jurors he was in the house for five hours. DeToto pointed out James did not swab the garage keypad or look for gunshot residue in A.J.'s third-floor bedroom, to which James said nothing in the room looked "pertinent to the investigation."
Prosecutors then played the 16-minute 911 call A.J. made at 1:40 a.m. He is heard whispering, telling the 911 dispatcher he's in his closet and that he heard gunshots from his parents' bedroom.
"Their door is cracked open, and it's never cracked open," he is heard saying.
911 Dispatcher: "Did it sound like a handgun, rifle or shotgun?"
A.J. Armstrong: "I don't know...I'm not good with guns...(my dad has a gun) underneath the- I think he keeps it in a drawer next to his bed."
There are several lengthy pauses on the call, while dispatchers occasionally update A.J. with information about officers being on their way. They arrived six minutes after the call was made. At no point does A.J. mention a masked man intruder to the dispatcher. Before his 2019 mistrial, A.J. told Eyewitness News in an exclusive interview he saw a masked man run from the house.
Towards the end of the call, A.J. can be heard saying quietly, as if he's talking to himself, "It's all my fault," and then "Oh, my God." He is heard waking up his sister Kayra, 12 years old at the time, who was asleep on the same second floor where their parents had been sleeping. The brother and sister then exit the house when officers arrive at the front door.
Prosecutors also showed jurors a number of text messages between A.J. and his parents, extracted from A.J.'s phone by forensic investigators. The texts shared were sent and received between April and July 2016.
In the four months leading up to the murders, prosecutors showed the jury that Dawn and Antonio Sr. sent several texts to A.J., calling him a liar, expressing anger that he was smoking in the house, letting his grades slip, and disobeying their rules. A.J. showed remorse to some of those texts.
Prosecutors also introduced a log of activity on A.J.'s phone generated by new software that didn't exist during A.J.'s first trial.
Data extracted shows that between 1:02 a.m. and 1:40 a.m. on the day of the murders, A.J.'s cell phone was locked, unplugged from a charging port, but the screen went on and off several times. The forensic investigator testified that could happen when one gets an alert, turns on the iPhone screen by pressing a side button, or turns on the flashlight from the button on the home screen.
The most emotional moment of the day came when Hannah Pilon, who is Josh Armstrong's ex-girlfriend, taking the stand. Josh is A.J.'s older half-brother and Dawn's biological son, whom the defense claims could have been the real killer.
Pilon testified that she and Josh had been together for about a year before the murder.
"He was really kind, really sweet. We definitely loved each other," Hannah told jurors. "I wanted to marry him. I wanted to spend my life with him."
She says after Dawn and Antonio Sr. were killed, Josh spiraled. He became paranoid, depressed, and obsessed with the murders.
"He just wanted answers," she told the jury.
Josh was admitted to a mental health facility six months after the murders, records show. Prosecutors read aloud from some of those records: "(He has) suicidal thoughts, is hearing voices, gradually deteriorating, there's a woman in his head he wants to hurt; depressed, withdrawn, no motivation, dropped out of college October 2017."
Those court documents say Josh voluntarily checked himself into a mental health facility, accompanied by his grandparents, who were Dawn's parents.
As Pilon cried on the stand, she testified that Josh became a very different person after the murders.
The day ended with the prosecution's 10th witness: HPD Sgt. Kenneth Daignault, who was a homicide investigator on the case in 2016. He told jurors that all windows were locked with their screens secured and that it would have been impossible for the killer to go out through a window.
Daignault's testimony picks up Monday morning on day five of the A.J. Armstrong retrial.