Judge rules against change of venue hearing in A.J. Armstrong's 3rd murder trial

Pooja Lodhia Image
Tuesday, January 31, 2023
AJ Armstrong's 3rd murder trial will remain in Harris Co., judge rules
A.J. Armstrong will soon face another Harris County jury as he is tried in the murders of his parents for a third time. A judge ruled to keep the trial here after prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to an unusually extensive jury selection process.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A judge ruled that A.J. Armstrong's third murder trial will remain in Harris County during a hearing on Monday. This comes after a variety of Houston-area lawmakers, judges, and elected officials, including Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Mayor Sylvester Turner, were called to a courtroom.

The ruling to keep the trial in Harris County was decided after prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to an unusually extensive jury selection process.

ABC13 first reported on the rare move of having the judge, in this case, be the one to file a motion to move the case out of the county after Armstrong's first two trials ended in hung juries.

"We are excited with the decision to keep it in Harris County. A.J. has been so emotionally strong. I'm so proud of him. He just wants his life back," A.J.'s uncle, Harvey Armstrong, said.

Just 15 minutes before the hearing was scheduled to begin Monday, prosecutors proposed keeping the trial in Harris County, but holding a more intensive jury selection process.

Both the state and the defense team agreed to a voir dire, which means instead of questioning a jury in a group, each person will be talked to individually. This method is usually used in a death penalty case.

"You might take an hour or two on just one particular juror because you're really trying to ferret out whether or not they can be fair and impartial," Legal Analyst Steve Shellist explained. "So, I guess the judge is saying that's a compromise, but it's a big deal."

In the third trial, the jury selection process is expected to take six weeks, compared with Armstrong's last trial, in which selection took three days.

ABC13 obtained documentation Friday showing the various elected officials being called upon.

The subpoenas were served in concert with Armstrong's lawyers filing an objection to Judge Kelli Johnson's motion to change the venue of the trial, which would be the third such proceeding since 2019.

The defense argues that 12 fair and unbiased jurors can be found among the diverse 4.7 million people who call Harris County home. In paperwork filed by the defense, attorneys point out previous highly-publicized local cases that gained national attention, yet stayed in Harris County for trial, like the David Temple murder case. Temple was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife Belinda in 1999, during his second trial here.

The nine witnesses were called to testify about how diverse the county is and that it's the best place to have a fair trial for Armstrong, who wound up with two mistrials for the murders of his parents, Dawn and Antonio Armstrong Sr. in 2016.

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