AP NEWS

Jury selection to begin for Bellaire teen accused in parents’ deaths

March 29, 2019

Almost three years after police found a former NFL player and his wife shot to death in the bed of their Bellaire home, their son will stand trial in their killings.

A jury is set to be selected on Friday with testimony expected to begin next week in the capital murder trial of A.J. Armstrong, who was 16 at the time of his parents’ murders. He’ll be tried as an adult in state District Judge Kelli Johnson’s court.

Dawn and Antonio Armstrong, were found July 29, 2016 upstairs in their Bellaire townhouse, both shot in the head and with pillows over their faces, according to prosecutors.

The younger Armstrong has maintained his innocence from the start and garnered some support from family members during a court proceeding. More than a dozen family members crowded a small juvenile courtroom at an August 2016 hearing, and one called out “We love you, man,” as Armstrong was led away.

The younger Armstrong called police around 1:41 a.m. and said he was hiding in an upstairs closet. He told authorities that he heard shots ring out and saw a masked man inside the home, prosecutors said.

When police arrived, Armstrong turned off the home security system and let them inside, they said. Officers found a .22-caliber pistol and a note on the kitchen counter that read, “I have been watching for a long time. Get me.” There were no signs of forced entry, prosecutors said.

Harris County District Attorney spokesman Dane Schiller said his office declined to comment about the case before trial. Armstrong’s attorney, Rick DeToto, could not be reached for comment.

As the case has moved through the Harris County Criminal Court, attorneys have fought over what evidence to include in the case.

Armstrong was taken out of the private school, Kinkaid, where he played football, because of low academic grades. He enrolled at Lamar High School and wasn’t on the starting roster, a Houston Police Department detective testified during a hearing in 2017.

Other evidence that was revealed in court proceedings showed that Armstrong had been caught smoking marijuana in his room, and his parents had on one occasion taken away his car and cell phone. Police also located a crack pipe in his room, as well as ID cards of other Kinkaid students, which can serve as debit cards in the school.

In the 2017 hearing, prosecutors painted a portrait of teen disgruntled at being disciplined by his parents and for not starting on the football team.

Armstrong’s defense attorney has previously pointed to the fact that the weapon doesn’t directly tie the teen to the crime. There was no gunshot residue on Armstrong’s clothes the night of the shooting, and his DNA and fingerprints weren’t found on the handgun.

Armstrong did admit to a homicide detective that he remembered discharging a gun in his room sometime before his parents were murdered, according to prosecutors. Investigators found bullet holes in his comforter, pillow and through the floor of his room. The bullet hole through the floor was covered by a pile of socks.

DeToto lost a motion this week to move the case back down to juvenile court, but successfully subpoenaed three detectives who he said could have rumored information about the elder Armstrong, according to court records.

The parents, both 42, were well known in the community and owned a small chain of fitness centers. Antonio Armstrong graduated from Kashmere High School, played football at Texas A&M University and was in the National Football League for a short time. He was also the assistant pastor at his mother’s Gulfton-area church.

Armstrong was held at the Harris County Juvenile Detention Center before moving to the Harris County Jail. He made $200,000 bond in April 2017, according to court records.

Armstrong faces life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years. Because he was a juvenile at the time of the killing, he would not be eligible for the death penalty.

samantha.ketterer@chron.com

Twitter.com/sam_kett