BELLAIRE, Texas - A mistrial has been declared in the case of Antonio "AJ" Armstrong Jr. who was accused capital murder in the shooting deaths of his parents inside their Bellaire home in 2016.
The jury began deliberating on Monday, and on Wednesday the jury sent a note to the judge saying they couldn’t agree on a verdict.
The judge instructed them to keep deliberating but declared a mistrial a few hours later. This is the second time jurors have been unable to reach a verdict regarding whether Armstrong shot and killed his parents.
Each day when they were dismissed the judge had them sequestered, so their decision would be based solely on the evidence and not swayed by outside influences.
Even so, after nearly 18 hours of deliberating the six men and six women who served as jurors in the Capital Murder trial for Antonio Armstrong Jr. have been unable to agree on whether he is guilty or not.
Out on a $200,000 bond, Antonio Armstrong Jr. has been coming and going from his Capital Murder trial with family and friends, waiting for a second time for jurors to reach a verdict. However, just like his trial in 2019, this jury after two weeks of testimony is hung, deadlocked, unable to agree on Antonio Jr’s guilt or innocence."
Around 1:00 p.m. Judge Kelli Johnson read jurors the Allen Charge, informing them she'll be forced to declare a mistrial and yet another jury will likely have to hear the same evidence again to decide Antonio Jr’s fate. So she instructed them to go back to the jury room and try to reach a unanimous verdict. After about two hours they still couldn’t.
Antonio is accused of shooting his parents Antonio Sr. and Dawn Armstrong in the head as they slept in July 2016 when he was 16 years old.
Prosecutors said every door and window were closed and locked at the Armstrong's Bellaire home on July 29, 2016, when the parents were shot to death with their own gun as they slept.
Additionally, prosecutors pointed to the alarm that was set at 9:52 p.m. and was never triggered. Also, alarm records show motion sensors set off in the house, but no exterior doors opening or closing.
Defense attorneys, however, say the alarm system is flawed.
Antonio Jr. called 911 at 1:40am that morning in 2016 saying he was in his third floor bedroom and heard gunshots in his parents second floor room. His 12 year old’s sister’s bedroom was also on the second floor and prosecutors question how AJ would have been able to pinpoint which room the shots came from.
Antonio Jr is also on the 911 recording saying "I hear a loud high-pitched noise". Prosecutors say that type of ringing in the ears often happens after someone fires a gun.
AJ admits he fired the murder weapon through a pillow and comforter leaving a hole in his bedroom floor in the days before his parents were shot to death.
Two days before the murders Antonio Jr. says he also set fire to carpeting in the house. Prosecutors say he first doused the floor with gasoline at the only stairwell his parents would have been able to exit the home and set it on fire, hoping the whole house would go up in flames, but the fire died out.
"He was engaging in serious disturbing disruptive behavior, and he did it with a smile on his face," Prosecutor Ryan Trask asked jurors during Closing Arguments. "What kind of person takes on the persona of a normal happy person when he’s clearly experimenting with ways to kill his parents?"
Prosecuting attorneys also say Antonio Jr. did a Google search for "How can a car bomb be rigged to explode when started?"
Defense attorneys say investigators should be looking at AJ’s older brother Josh who was 19 years old at the time, lived in his own apartment down the street from his parents and siblings, suffers mental illness and felt like the "black sheep" of the family because he isn’t Antonio Sr’s biological son.
Prosecutors counter, saying Josh was investigated, was left devastated by his parents being killed and they say his mental health spiraled out of control afterward. They also say the murders were premeditated and planned, not committed by someone suffering psychosis. They also introduced Antonio Jr’s cellphone records as evidence saying he was constantly on his phone, except for the time frame when his parents were murdered.
Activity on AJ’s phone stops at 1:02am. AJ’s phone is plugged into a charger at 1:04am, unplugged at 1:08 and a second floor motion sensor is triggered at 1:09am. For several minutes AJ's phone is locked but the display is repeatedly lighting up. Prosecutors say that could happen when someone is using the phone to light their way in a dark home.
The first floor motion sensor, where the gun and note were found on the kitchen counter, was activated at 1:25am. At 1:40am AJ calls 911 saying he heard shots. The first police officers arrive at 1:46 a.m. A short time later AJ disarms the home alarm and alarm records show the front door is opened.
Prosecutors say if a gunman was shooting the Armstrongs at 1:40am when AJ was calling 911 there wouldn’t have been enough time for an intruder to go downstairs, find a pen and notepad in the kitchen drawer, write a note, leave it and the gun on the counter, open the kitchen drawers, lock up the house and leave without being seen by arriving officers.
Prosecuting attorneys also say Antonio Jr’s parents, particularly his mom were at their wits end with him, were constantly grounding him and had taken his Mustang away and were taking him out of private school because they say AJ was lying, drinking, smoking marijuana and failing in school.
Defense attorneys say AJ’s relationship with his parents was that of a typical 16 year old kid. They say two weeks before the murders Josh had an argument with their parents and was "cut off" financially. Although, the parents made Josh and AJ swap vehicles, giving Josh AJ’s Mustang and Antonio Jr. Josh’s truck.
Harris Co. District Attorney Kim Ogg shared a brief statement, which read:
"We followed the evidence and stood up for Antonio Armstrong Sr. and Dawn Armstrong, who were murdered in their bed…We appreciate the time, effort and diligence of jurors as they were presented all the evidence in this brutal attack."
Meanwhile, Defense attorneys say voiced their exhaustion with the entire case calling it a "nightmare."
"It’s been an entire nightmare," ," says Defense Attorney Chris Collings. "At some point when is enough, enough? And that’s where we are. The family is sick and tired of it. AJ is sick and tired of it. When you haven’t done anything wrong how much do you have to show I’m not guilty."
The first trial ended with 8 jurors voting guilty and 4 not guilty. This time it was the reverse, 8 jurors voting to acquit and 4 voting guilty.
"Specifically for (prosecutors) main argument for the alarm system got worse I mean that witness admitted that those alarms records are not accurate," Defense Attorney Rick Detoto adds. "So he is now our witness. We’ll be contacting him for the next trial".
The next Capital Murder re-trial for Antonio Jr has been set for February.