Houston man will be tried 3rd time after mistrial in October over parents' murders when he was 16

Courtney Fischer Image
Tuesday, November 22, 2022
AJ Armstrong: State will try Houston man 3rd time after mistrial in October over parents' murders when he was 16
A.J. Armstrong, now 23 years old and now a father himself, will go to trial again next year, prosecutors say. This comes after a jury of six men and six women disagreed on a verdic

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- ABC13 has learned prosecutors will try A.J. Armstrong a third time for capital murder in the deaths of his parents, Dawn and Antonio Armstrong Sr. This decision comes the month after A.J.'s second trial ended with another hung jury.

"Two people were murdered in the night, each shot in the head as they slept in their own bed; we will continue our fight for justice and we look forward to presenting all the evidence to jurors," Dane Schiller, a spokesperson with the Harris County District Attorney's office, said.

Right now, A.J.'s next retrial is slated for February 2023.

In July 2016, A.J. was charged with killing his parents as they slept in their southwest Houston home. Investigators said A.J. used his father's gun and left it on the kitchen counter next to a note that read, "I've been watching you."

A.J. was 16 years old at the time, about to enter his sophomore year of high school. He is now a father himself, who turned 23 years old this month.

Five weeks ago, a jury of six men and six women could not agree on a verdict after listening to more than two weeks worth of testimony from 24 witnesses. In the end, four jurors believed A.J. had killed his mother and father while eight jurors believed he was not guilty.

A.J.'s first capital murder trial in 2019 also ended with no verdict after jurors deliberated for 19 hours. The split was flipped. Eight jurors believed A.J. was guilty while four believed he was not guilty.

Upon hearing news of another retrial, Rick DeToto, A.J.'s attorney, sent ABC13 the following statement:

"It has been six years, two trials, hundreds of investigative hours, countless witnesses, no evidence and, more importantly, 12 jurors who believed A.J. was not guilty. The Harris County District Attorneys Office has lost evidence and the Houston Police Department has refused to fully and fairly investigate this case. The district attorney has sent her best prosecutors with their best arguments and they failed, both times, to convince a jury. All of A.J.'s family supports him and believes in his innocence, yet the state continues to persecute A.J. While we are disappointed in the decision, we look forward to presenting the evidence to a third jury, proving that A.J. is innocent of this crime. We will not stop fighting for A.J."

The 23-year-old has long maintained that he did not kill his parents. In two separate Eyewitness News exclusive interviews, A.J. said he saw an intruder running from the house that night. Defense attorneys argued during both the first and second trial that A.J.'s older half-brother Josh Armstrong, Dawn's biological son, could have been the real killer. Mental health experts for both the defense and prosecution testified that after reading Josh's medical records it was clear he showed signs of schizophrenia and suffered from psychotic breaks.

But, prosecutors argued Josh was a victim too, spiraling mentally after his parents were murdered.

The state worked to show how A.J. allegedly planned to kill his parents in the days and weeks leading up to their murders. Prosecutors said the then-teen fired a practice shot in his bedroom. He allegedly searched "How can a car be rigged to explode when started?" on Google less than 48 hours before the shooting, and investigators say at one point A.J. tried to set the house on fire while Dawn and Antonio Sr. were home.

Prosecutors pointed to text messages between A.J. and his parents, which they say show how frustrated Dawn and Antonio Sr. were with their son for breaking curfew, spending too much money, smoking weed, and doing poorly in school. In the weeks leading up to their deaths, they had been coming down hard on the teen.

The defense says A.J. always respected and loved his parents who were strict with no tolerance for what was just a typical teenager acting out and pushing the limit.

A.J. is scheduled to return to court in January 2023, seven weeks before his trial is expected to start.