40 hours of testimony in 3rd AJ Armstrong murder trial conclude on day 11

Courtney Fischer Image
Tuesday, August 15, 2023
Stage set for closing arguments in 3rd AJ Armstrong murder trial
ABC13's Courtney Fischer offers a recap after the end of testimony on the 11th day of the AJ Armstrong murder trial.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- After more than 40 hours of testimony from 31 witnesses over the past 11 days, the state of Texas rested its case against A.J. Armstrong, who's charged with murdering his parents on July 29, 2016.

And the last voices we heard from were those of Dawn and Antonio Armstrong Sr. themselves, which served as a reminder of the loving parents at the center of this heartbreaking, seven-year saga.

Text messages from Dawn and Antonio Sr. to their two sons, Josh and A.J., in the weeks leading up to the double homicide were read aloud once more for the jury. These messages have been a theme throughout Armstrong's third capital murder trial.

Texts between Dawn and Josh, who was in his early 20s at the time, outlined what appeared to be a plan for him to move back to Houston from College Station, where he had been a student at Blinn College. The messages from June to July show a discussion about Josh enrolling at a school closer to home, moving into his own apartment, and working at his parents' Bellaire gym. Josh appeared to be a "normal" loving son, prosecutors worked to show.

But the defense psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Moeller, painted a very different picture of Josh. The defense has long argued that he could have been an alternative suspect, but police didn't investigate him.

Moeller testified that Josh appeared to have severe paranoia before Dawn and Antonio Sr. were murdered. He said Josh was "psychotic" and "having religious delusions" that could have caused him to kill his parents.

However, Moeller said, his theory about Josh's mental state was not based in the thousands of pages of medical records he reviewed due to the fact none of those records detail Josh's mental state before the murders. Josh hadn't been evaluated by doctors until five months after Dawn and Antonio Sr. were killed because that was the first time he sought medical treatment. In December 2016, Josh voluntarily checked himself into Ben Taub Hospital, saying he was struggling. Records show he was given an anti-psychotic drug while being treated in the emergency room.

Moeller explained his opinion that Josh was suffering from schizophrenia before July 2016 was based on the interviews he conducted with Kay Winston, Antonio Sr.'s mother, and Kayra Armstrong, Josh and A.J. Armstrong's younger sister. Moeller said he didn't read any text messages between family members.

The grandmother and sister both testified last week, saying Josh was "in a dark place" before the murders.

"People mean really well in court, but sometimes, their reality is not the reality," prosecutor John Jordan said when it was his turn to question Moeller.

Moeller also testified that the note left at the murder scene "could have been written by someone who thinks they're God." The note read: "I've been watching you for a long time. Come get me!"

"The manner of writing is consistent with someone who's angry-scribbled over and over again," Moeller said.

He testified that someone suffering psychosis could have been "delusional and organized" to leave a note.

The state's psychiatrist, Dr. Ian Lamoreux, was called back to the stand to refute that. He said leaving a note then leaving the scene is inconsistent with a religious-based murder.

"If a person commits a religious-based, psychotic murder, there is usually complete family annihilation," Lamoreux testified, calling attention to the fact Kayra and A.J. were survivors.

It's Lamoreux's opinion the note appears to be "left by a juvenile offender," he told the jury.

In the text messages sent between Armstrong family members 18 to 20 months leading up to the murders, Lamoreux also pointed out there was no discussion of Josh suffering from "religious themed delusions."

Closing arguments in Armstrong's third capital murder case are set for Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. and will be available to watch wherever you stream ABC13.

Judge Kelli Johnson told jurors to pack a bag. Should they not reach a verdict by end of day, they'll be sequestered to a hotel.

The two previous trials in 2019 and 2022 ended with hung juries.

Should A.J. Armstrong be found guilty of capital murder, he'll be immediately sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years.

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