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Son of Ex-NFL Linebacker Found Guilty of Murdering Parents as a Teen, Gets Life Sentence
Antonio “AJ” Armstrong Jr., who was 16 when he gunned down former Miami Dolphin Antonio Armstrong, and Dawn Armstrong, will be eligible for parole in 40 years.
Seven years after the fatal shootings of retired NFL linebacker Antonio Armstrong and his wife Dawn in their Houston home, their son Antonio “AJ” Armstrong Jr. was found guilty of their murders Wednesday by a Texas grand jury.
AJ, who was 16 at the time of the 2016 killings, was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years in the capital murder case, according to Houston-based station KHOU. The death penalty was reportedly not an option because of his age at time of the crimes.
Now 23, AJ did not show any emotion after the verdict was read, according to the station, but his wife Kate Armstrong cried in court.
This was AJ's third trial for the murders, after two earlier trials ended in a hung jury. In the first capital murder trial, which began and ended in April of 2019, AJ pleaded not guilty. It ended in a mistrial when jurors couldn't reach a unanimous decision, KHOU reported.
The second trial, which was delayed several times, ended in October of 2022 after a mistrial was declared again following the jury deliberating for 18 hours, but failing to agree.
AJ was accused of shooting his parents while they were asleep in their home in Bellaire, a city that lies within the Houston–Sugar Land–Baytown metro area, on July 29, 2016.
The then-teen called emergency services at 1:40 a.m., telling the operator he heard shots coming from his mom and dad's room. AJ added that his sister, 12 at the time, was asleep downstairs.
Both Armstrong — who played for the Miami Dolphins in 1995, and later played in the Canadian Football League — and his wife were shot in the head. The former football player was shot once, and Dawn, twice. First responders found the couple, both aged 42, with pillows over their heads, according to KHOU. Armstrong died at a hospital, while Dawn was pronounced dead at the scene.
A .22-caliber pistol was left on a counter in the kitchen, and a note reading, "I have been watching you for a long time. Come get me.”
AJ told investigators hours after the shootings that there had been an intruder in a mask. However, there was no sign of forced entry, authorities determined, which led to them honing in on AJ.
During the trial, prosecutors pointed out that AJ never mentioned an intruder when he initially called 911 or in the first few hours of being interviewed by detectives, KHOU reported. He later said that after hearing gunshots in his parents' room, he saw a masked intruder who was 6-feet-tall.
The prosecution also noted that, about a week before his parents were shot, AJ fired his dad's gun through his bedroom floor and through a pillow and blanket.
"He shot the murder weapon in his room," prosecutor John Jordan said. "Who does that? Purely coincidental? It’s ridiculous. Ridiculous."
Jordan alleged that AJ first told detectives that he shot the gun because a friend had never heard a gun before, but he later changed his his story, saying he was the only one in the room at the time.
Prosecutors also said that AJ never showed any emotion when he was informed that his mom had died. They added that the teen set a fire outside of his mom and dad's bedroom two days before the shootings, and conducted internet searches on how to make a car bomb.
Cell phone records were also shown during the trial, indicating that AJ's phone and motion sensors tracked him moving about in the home up until 1:40 a.m., when he dialed police.
The defense tried to cast doubt in the case by pointing to the mental health issues of Josh Armstrong, the eldest son of the Armstrongs, presenting him as a possible suspect. However, Josh's longtime girlfriend, Hannah Pilon, testified that his mental health problems didn't begin until after his mom and dad were killed.
The prosecution also noted alarm records, saying they showed that besides the victims, AJ and their 12-year-old daughter were the only other two people in the house at the time they were killed.
The daughter, Kayra, testified for the defense, in addition to AJ's paternal grandmother. KHOU reported that dozens of other family members showed up at the trial to show their support for AJ.
"His family is amazing," defense attorney Rick DeToto said, according to the station. "Obviously, they're devastated right now. This is a difficult time for them, but they will rally and help A.J. and his young son and his wife get through this."
DeToto added that AJ was "devastated but he's one of the strongest young men I've ever known," and said that they plan to appeal the case.