ABOVE: Dawn and Antonio Armstrong Sr. and A.J. Armstrong Jr. (bottom right)
Over the past seven plus years, there has been a lot of discussion regarding the cold-blooded and brutal murders of Antonio Armstrong Sr., and his wife Dawn Armstrong, as they were shot in the head with a .22-caliber pistol while they both slept in their Bellaire-area home on July 29, 2016.
There has been even more conversation about whether their—then 16-year-old son, Antonio “AJ” Armstrong Jr.—used the gun that was owned by his father to commit those heinous murders and if he is responsible for killing both of his parents back in 2016.
As the court of public opinion has consistently weighed in on AJ Armstrong’s alleged guilt or innocence over the last seven years, three Houston juries heard the evidence surrounding the case during three separate trials, with the first two trials resulting in mistrials.
On August 15th, however, attorneys for the prosecution and the defense presented their cases to a third jury. After seeing all the evidence, hearing from 31 witnesses over 11 days, and listening to the closing arguments of both sides, the third jury deliberated the fate of AJ Armstrong for over nine hours over a two-day period, and came back with a unanimous verdict the next day.
On August 16th, “Guilty” was the unanimous verdict handed down by the 12 jurors, finding AJ Armstrong guilty of the capital murder of both his parents—Antonio Armstrong Sr. and Dawn Armstrong. The, now 23-year-old, was immediately sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 40 years.
Immediately after the verdict, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg held a press conference, along with her prosecutors, to discuss the guilty verdict and to thank everyone involved.
“I want to say this on behalf of the victims,” Ogg stated at the press conference. “Antonio Sr. and Dawn Armstrong died because they were trying to be good parents. Because they wanted their children to do right. Not to lie. To work. To be law-abiding, contributing adults. And for that, they paid with their lives.”
Ogg went on to express additional thanks to the prosecutors and law enforcement for their dedication to the case, while expressing a heartfelt appreciation to the jury and pointing out that approximately one out of nine people actually respond to jury summons.
“For the jurors who answered their jury summons, I want to thank them, because we don’t make these decisions about guilt or innocence unilaterally,” said Ogg. “Our jurisprudence, and our American democracy, and our government system doesn’t contemplate it that way. We participate in our democracy, and the community, those jurors—12 trial jurors and 3 alternates—the community spoke, and the community found Antonio Armstrong Jr. guilty, and the community found justice for our victims.”
There have been lots of discussions across the Greater Houston area regarding the multiple times that AJ Armstrong was tried for the murders, where the new blood evidence came from, and whether this was a “witch-hunt” to deliver a conviction against him by any means necessary.
As stated before, two of the previous trials ended with a hung jury and the judge had no other choice but to declare a mistrial because the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. In layman’s terms, a mistrial simply means that the trial ended because there was an inability by the jury to render a unanimous decision on the guilt or innocence of the defendant.
According to former Harris County criminal court judge Ronnisha Bowman, to hand down any sentence in Texas—whether it is a conviction or acquittal—the jury’s decision must be unanimous. In other words, if even one juror disagrees, it would be considered a hung jury and could lead to the judge declaring a mistrial. However, the defendant could be tried again.
All jurors MUST agree on a final conviction or acquittal. That didn’t happen in AJ Armstrong’s first two trials, which is what led to the third and most recent trial.
“In Texas, a unanimous decision is required for final conviction, or an acquittal for that matter,” said Bowman. “If a jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, in a criminal case, the state can retry the case as many times as they choose.”
It is also important to note that in Texas, anyone who is charged with capital murder and is convicted could possibly receive a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty. In this case, because AJ Armstrong was only 16, and a minor under the age of 18 at the time he was charged with committing the two murders, the death penalty was not applicable, and he was eligible for a sentence of life with parole.
Assistant District Attorneys John Jordan and Ryan Trask prosecuted AJ Armstrong during this third criminal re-trial case, as well as during the second trial that resulted in a mistrial.
During closing arguments, the prosecution argued that the evidence presented before the jury was enough to find AJ Armstrong guilty. They went on to say that AJ Armstrong’s own mother, who was the person prosecutors said knew him best, was forthright about her son.
Prosecutors opened their closing arguments with Dawn Armstrong’s words about AJ Armstrong that were sent to him via text before the murders, stating: “All you do is piss on everything we do for you. What did we ever do to deserve all the lies and the schemes?”
Prosecutors would continue to argue that AJ Armstrong’s cell phone and the alarm system activity were connected, and focused on the timeline of events that took place between the 9-1-1 call that AJ Armstrong made and when the police arrived.
The prosecution also attempted to debunk the argument that the defense was making that AJ Armstrong’s older brother, Joshua Armstrong, could have committed the murders instead of him.
“I am asking you to find somebody innocent in this case, but not the defendant,” the prosecution pleaded with the jury during closing arguments. “Josh Armstrong was wrongfully accused in this courtroom for a crime he didn’t commit, but not by us, by them [the defense attorneys]. Their case is that Josh Armstrong did this. Are they so desperate that they would sacrifice one brother for the other?”
As the prosecution wrapped up their closing arguments, it was the defense’s turn to refute the prosecution’s claims by reminding jurors that the prosecution had the burden of proof to find AJ Armstrong guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The defense for Armstrong stated that: “When the state does not have sufficient evidence to meet that burden, what happens? They turn to desperation. They start doing things and concocting stories, they start speculating.”
The defense continued to dissect the evidence, question the sworn testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses, highlight the mental health, drug, and alcohol challenges of Joshua Armstrong, and continue the speculation that Joshua Armstrong could have committed the murders of his parents.
“This young man right here [AJ Armstrong] deserves far more than to have his future determined based on faulty, unreliable, error-ridden records from an alarm company that can stand up to their own records, their own accuracy, for the July month alone in 2016,” the defense argued. “This, in and of itself, creates reasonable doubt across the board.”
Undoubtedly, this case has so many layers and details, but regardless of the court of public opinion, we know that AJ Armstrong Sr. and Dawn Armstrong were both murdered on July 29, 2016, with their own gun, which was left on the kitchen counter after the shootings, along with a note written on the family’s notepad with a pen from a kitchen drawer.
Here are other things we know about the case, after learning more and more about what occurred from the day of the murders to the recent conviction.
That same day, AJ Armstrong called 9-1-1 to report hearing gunshots in the house coming from his parents’ room. AJ Armstrong and his, then 12-year-old sister, were in the house.
AJ Armstrong was taken into police custody and subsequently charged with the murders.
Investigators say that all the doors and windows at the house were still locked prior to the police arriving at the home.
The Armstrong family had some challenging internal relationship issues.
The judge set AJ Armstrong’s bond at $200,000 and he was ordered to wear an ankle monitor. He was released on bond.
In March 2019, AJ Armstrong’s first capital murder trial began.
In April 2019, the judge declared a mistrial because the first jury could not reach a unanimous verdict after two days of deliberations.
In October 2022, the second trial for AJ Armstrong began.
That same month, the judge declared a mistrial because the second jury could not reach a unanimous verdict after more than two days of deliberations.
In July 2023, AJ Armstrong’s third trial began.
On August 16, 2023, AJ Armstrong was found guilty of capital murder and was immediately sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 40 years.
AJ Armstrong was transferred to state custody and will be sent to the Byrd Unit in Huntsville, Texas, which is where male inmates who are given the death penalty or sentenced to life in prison for 50 or more years serve out their sentences.
Prior to his conviction, AJ Armstrong had been free on bond for seven years.
The Armstrong family and his attorneys have filed a federal civil lawsuit against the City of Houston, claiming in the suit that the Houston Police Department (HPD) planted blood evidence to sway the third jury and help manage to get a false conviction against AJ Armstrong.
The Forward Times will continue to follow the case and keep our readers informed with any new details that may arise. May Antonio Armstrong Sr. and Dawn Armstrong rest in peace.