HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — Before jurors were seated on day one of A.J. Armstrong’s third capital murder trial, his team acknowledged to the court new blood evidence in the case, with defense attorney Rick DeToto addressing his client, asking, “Do you want this evidence to come in?”
“Yes sir,” Armstrong responded.
This blood evidence was reportedly the reason for an eight-week delay in trial.
Twelve jurors plus four alternates were picked back on May 31 after a three week, exhaustive, one-on-one jury selection. One juror has since dropped out due to scheduling issues, per sources close to the case, moving up one of the alternates.
Prosecutor John Jordan addressed the delay in his opening statement, explaining to jurors the discovery happened when their blood expert went to examine the blood-stained pillows and comforter found on Antonio Sr. and Dawn Armstrong’s bed, where they were murdered while asleep in the early morning hours of July 29, 2016.
Upon looking through physical evidence, the expert examined Armstrong’s gray T-shirt and pants, which were already tested for DNA back in 2016, Jordan told the jury. But, the expert then discovered an HPD badge stuck on the T-shirt. Jordan said she peeled it back to discover “two stains” on the back of the badge.
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Further testing revealed the blood is from Antonio Sr., Jordan said.
“I anticipate there will be a claim that somehow, touching the pillows, it was able to flake off and get behind that sticker,” Jordan told the jury. “If you believe that, rely on the other evidence.”
When it was the defense’s turn to address the jury, Rick DeToto said specs of blood were found all over the bottom of the 7-year-old evidence boxes, “Not just on the back of the sticker.” He said it’s clear some of the blood specs have “chipped off” one of the blood-stained pillows.
DeToto then produced a glass jar of red pepper flakes, like what you’d find on a table at an Italian restaurant, sprinkled the flakes onto a piece of paper, then tossed them into the air, likening them to blood specs that don’t stick.
DeToto told jurors that after Armstrong’s shirt and pants were retested in June, no blood was found anywhere on the clothing.
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Both prosecutors and defense attorneys also reiterated concepts we’ve heard previously, in trial one and two.
Jordan told jurors that text messages between Armstrong and his parents will be a “window into their lives.” He walked us through the hours leading up to the murders, saying the house alarm records plus Armstrong’s cell phone activity fit together like a puzzle.
“The doors are locked, the alarm is set, everyone is asleep but the defendant,” Jordan said.
Armstrong stopped using his phone at 1:02 a.m., Jordan said. Records show that six minutes later, Armstrong unplugged his phone, and a minute after that, the sensor on the home security system outside Armstrong’s room was activated, Jordan stated. He told jurors cell phone data would show them Armstrong’s phone would light up on and off between 1:09 and 1:40 a.m. Investigators believe Dawn and Antonio Sr. were murdered sometime between 1:08 and 1:25 a.m.
“At the end of this trial, you may not know why the defendant killed his parents, but you will know that he did,” Jordan said at the end of his 40-minute long opening statement.
When it was DeToto’s turn to tell jurors about the hours leading up to the double-murder, he described a day with “nothing out of the ordinary.”
“The text messages — they do tell a story,” DeToto told jurors. “A normal, everyday, average relationship between parents and a 16-year-old.”
READ MORE: 7 years after his parents’ murders, AJ Armstrong is about to be tried for the 3rd time
DeToto put up a poster board of a young Armstrong hugging his father on the football field telling jurors, “A.J. worshipped his Dad,” and said the then-teen had a “good relationship with his mom.”
It was Josh Armstrong, A.J. Armstrong’s older half-brother, who was struggling at home, DeToto said. In both the 2019 and 2022 trial, the defense pointed to Josh as a possible suspect, saying he was suffering from a mental health crisis in 2016, before doctors diagnosed him.
HPD investigators zeroed in on Armstrong as the killer within the first 11 minutes of arriving at the crime scene, DeToto told jurors. Though, Armstrong told investigators during his interrogation, “I had nothing to do with this.”
The defense opening statement ended with DeToto reciting Armstrong’s own words during his police interview: “When my Dad wakes up, he’ll tell you, I had nothing to do with this.”
The day ended with testimony from the first three witnesses who have all testified in the two previous trials.
HPD officer Lazaro Maldonado was first on the stand, describing how, as one of the first officers to the scene, he secured the Armstrong home as A.J. and his sister, Kayra, who was 12 years old at the time, got out safely.
HPD Lieutenant J.P. Horelica, who was a supervisor, testified he saw no one run from the house as they set up a perimeter around the Armstrong home.
Jason Williams, a former Houston EMT, who was the third and final witness on day one, told jurors how they tried to save Antonio Sr., who was breathing heavy, fighting for his life when paramedics arrived. Dawn, who had been shot twice, did not have a pulse, Williams testified. Antonio Sr. was rushed to the hospital, where he later died.
Testimony resumes Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. The trial is expected to last three weeks.
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