A Texas woman took the stand Monday to testify about supposedly crucial information pertaining to the trial of a teen accused of murdering his parents in their sleep, maintaining that the deceased father had received death threats previously and also recently altered his life insurance policy.
Antonio Armstrong, Jr., now 18, is accused of fatally shooting his father, former NFL player Antonio Armstrong, Sr., and his mother, Dawn Armstrong, on July 29, 2016, according to the Houston Chronicle.
The shooter fired through pillows covering the victims’ heads as they slept, stifling the sound of gunshots, the Chronicle reports. Dawn died instantly, while Antonio Sr. succumbed at a local hospital a short time later.
The couple's 12-year-old daughter—the suspect’s sister—was at the home sleepng at the time, but was not injured, according to the Chronicle.
Armstrong Jr. called 911 and said he was hiding in a closet. He blamed the murder on a masked man, telling police he'd heard gunfire in his parents’ bedroom then saw the man leaving, the Chronicle reports prosecutors as saying. When police arrived, however, Armstrong Jr. had to disable a home alarm to let them in, authorities said.
Prosecutors said police found a .22 caliber handgun and a handwritten note reading, "I have been watching for a long time. Get me," according to the Chronicle.
Houston homicide detectives didn’t believe Armstrong Jr.'s story and began suspecting he was the culprit. They searched his bedroom and found evidence he smoked crack cocaine and practiced shooting through pillows, according to authorities.
Hours later, Armstrong Jr. was arrested.
Though he was 16 years old at the time, Armstrong Jr. is being tried as an adult on two counts of capital murder. He faces life in prison; he was too young at the time of the killings to be eligible for the death penalty under Texas law.
However, five months after Armstrong Jr.'s arrest, Maxine Adams told Houston police she had information about the murders, according to court filings obtained by Oxygen.com. And on Monday, Adams testified at a pre-trial hearing, saying she believed “there could be a connection” between what she told police and what actually went down at the Armstrong residence that fateful night, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Adams mentioned an alleged prostitution ring her then-husband Cecil Adams, a friend of the late Armstrong Sr., and the deceased father were involved in, as well as the claims of death threats and the life insurance policy change.
At the time, she said she hired a private investigator to snoop on Adams due to her suspicions. However, in addition to not even remembering the name of the P.I. she hired, Adams could only point to vague indications of the alleged prostitution ring her ex-husband and Armstrong Sr. were supposedly involved in—mostly phone records, the Chronicle reports.
Adams testified she could not remember who told her about the supposed death threats made to Armstrong Sr., or about the deceased former footballer changing his life insurance policy shortly before he was killed, as she previously told police.
Armstrong Jr.’s lawyers say police and prosecutors improperly kept what Adams said to police secret for 18 months, after telling them “that this allegation of prostitution … was investigated and that it was not credible thus indicating that their investigation was complete," according to the court filings.
The Harris County District Attorney's Office only provided lawyers for Armstrong Jr. with the audio recording of Adams' initial interview, as well as 50,000 pages of phone records, in June, the Chronicle reports.
Officials were required to do so by a landmark Supreme Court decision called Brady v. Maryland, which requires officials to turn over to criminal suspects any information in their possession that might be favorable to the defense.
Lawyers for Armstrong Jr. subsequently asked the court to dismiss the case against him because police and prosecutors didn’t initially disclose to the defense what Adams told them.
The delay, Armstrong Jr.’s lawyers say, compromised their ability to investigate the information and prepare an adequate defense.
“We’re learning that there was stuff available to us back in December 2016 that is no longer available, so, in our minds, that has caused harm to this young man and we don’t believe he can get a fair trial,” defense attorney Rick DeToto said, according to the Chronicle. He added later, “The reason the audio is so important is because she’s very specific about this prostitution ring. She gives names, she gives phone numbers, she gives how it works, she talks bank accounts and Facebook stuff.”
Defense attorney Chris Collingsworth said he was “flabbergasted” at the contents of the audio file, according to CW39 Houston.
However, the Harris County DA’s office maintained that more time was the answer to a potential pre-trial Brady violation—not an outright dismissal.
"We welcome the opportunity to present all the facts regarding this matter to a judge — be that in writing or at a hearing — as determined by the court," the district attorney’s office said in a statement, as quoted by CW39 Houston.
The court decided Armstrong’s trial will begin on March 29, 2019.