In excess of six years ago, a teen called 911 to report hearing gunshots coming from his parents’ bedroom. AJ Armstrong was arrested hours later and later charged with murdering Antonio and Dawn Armstrong.
AJ Armstrong, who is now 23 years old, has maintained his innocence but remains a suspect after two criminal trials ended in hung juries.
“There is no possibility. “I couldn’t even conceive of murdering my parents,” AJ Armstrong told “20/20.”
An episode of “20/20” airing on Jan. 6 at 9 p.m. ET and available on Hulu the following day examines the 2016 homicide in Houston and the lingering questions surrounding the deaths.
Antonio Armstrong, a former NFL player and later owner of multiple personal gyms, and his wife Dawn shared their southeast Houston home with AJ and his sister Kayla.
On July 29, 2016, AJ Armstrong, then 16 years old, called the police to report hearing gunshots coming from his parents’ room upstairs. When first responders arrived, they discovered the couple in bed with gunshot wounds to the head.
Dawn Armstrong was pronounced dead, while her husband passed away in the hospital a few hours later.
The police immediately questioned AJ Armstrong, who claimed to have seen a masked intruder in the residence.
“Yeah like I saw him running. Like I saw him running, “AJ Armstrong stated during the interview with investigators.
According to audio from the interview, investigators questioned this account because they found no evidence of an intruder and the home’s alarm was not activated and armed when first responders arrived. According to court documents, AJ Armstrong was the one who disarmed the alarm to allow the officers entry.
The officers also had questions regarding the peculiar evidence discovered at the residence.
There was a bullet hole in the ceiling of his parents’ room that originated in AJ’s third-floor bedroom.
The teen initially denied touching his father’s gun, which was later determined to have been the weapon that killed Dawn and Antonio. However, when pressed by law enforcement, who informed him that they had seen the bullet hole, he admitted that he accidentally fired the gun while showing it off to a friend in his room weeks earlier.
In addition, investigators observed a burn mark on the carpet at the top of the stairs leading to the second floor. When detectives questioned AJ Armstrong about this, he stated that he had been playing with matches and dropped one a few weeks prior to the murders.
Armstrong continued by stating that he initially lied to his father about the cause of the burn mark, but eventually confessed and they discussed it.
According to an audio recording of the interrogation, detectives make it clear to AJ Armstrong that his account of how his parents were murdered in their bed “isn’t adding up” and that he knows more than he is revealing. Armstrong maintains his innocence, insisting he had nothing to do with the murders of his parents.
After the interview, AJ Armstrong was charged with capital murder as a juvenile, much to the surprise of the rest of his family. Armstrong entered a plea of not guilty.
He was permitted to attend the funeral of his parents in handcuffs.
“I thought someone had lost their mind when my grandson was accused of murdering his parents. No way,” AJ Armstrong’s grandfather Keith Whitely told “20/20.””
Attorney Rick DeToto was retained to represent AJ Armstrong. DeToto stated on “20/20” that investigators found no physical evidence linking his client to the Armstrongs’ murders, such as gunshot residue on AJ or fingerprints on the gun found at the crime scene.
According to Detoto, Armstrong’s fingerprints were not discovered on a handwritten note found in the home that read “I have been watching for a long time”
“They didn’t find any gloves with any evidence that he had worn them,” he stated. “No bloody clothes were found in the washer or dryer. In this case, there is absolutely no evidence linking him to any physical evidence.”
However, prosecutors argued that the absence of physical evidence does not necessarily indicate that AJ Armstrong did not commit this crime.
A break-in at one of Antonio Armstrong’s gyms just days after the murders, according to AJ Armstrong’s attorneys, was another incident that police allegedly overlooked that could have shed light on the homicides.
The investigation into the burglary revealed that it was unrelated to the murders of the Armstrongs.
During AJ Armstrong’s initial trial in 2019, his attorneys alleged that AJ Armstrong’s half-brother Josh could be the real killer, a major bombshell accusation.
The attorneys argued that Josh Armstrong’s mental health issues made it possible for him to enter the house that night.
“AJ and Josh both had access to that house. Josh arrived at the scene on the night this occurred. In less than one minute, you can run from Josh’s apartment to the Armstrongs’ “DeToto argued before a judge.
Josh was examined by police, who ultimately ruled him out as a suspect.
The prosecution never called Josh Armstrong to the stand and insisted he was not a suspect in this case.
Instead, prosecutors argued that AJ Armstrong had drug problems and a strained relationship with his parents due to his poor academic performance. They argued that this and the lies he was caught in led him to murder his parents.
The jury ultimately reached a deadlock and a mistrial was declared.
“Honestly the first thing to my head was just like disappointment, but I always try and find the good somewhere in the situation,” AJ Armstrong said. “It’s obviously a lot better than being in jail for the rest of your life.”
Since the 2019 trial, he has not seen much of his half-brother, he said.
“Josh is Josh; there is not much else to say about him. He performs his duties “AJ Armstrong said.
Josh Armstrong declined to comment about the investigation and DeToto’s allegations when contacted by “20/20”
In October of 2022, a second trial began after years of delays. This time, prosecutors presented jurors with new evidence from AJ Armstrong’s cell phone on the night of the murders. In addition to knowing who Armstrong was texting, prosecutors could now determine when his phone was plugged in, unplugged, and the home screen was active.
According to court records, Armstrong’s cell phone was removed from the charger at 1:08 a.m., a time when prosecutors believe Armstrong was preparing to murder his parents.
Prosecutor John Jordan told the jury, “But there’s more because during that time his phone is still locked, but the display is going on and off,” “There are two potential outcomes. First, some push notifications may be arriving. Or two, you’re walking through a dark house and relying on the ambient lighting to navigate “Jordan said.
DeToto and his team argued once more that Josh Armstrong was a more credible suspect due to his mental health issues. DeToto read direct quotations from Josh Armstong’s medical records in court.
“Extremely psychotic, [he] hears voices ordering him to harm himself and others. Police transport a patient with psychotic symptoms to the hospital. In 2016, the patient witnessed the murder of both parents “DeToto read for the jury.
Josh Armstrong was neither called as a witness by the prosecution nor the defense once more. Prosecutors maintained that there is no evidence that he was involved in the murders of his parents and noted that all of his medical records admitted into evidence were created after the murders.
They do not deny that Josh told doctors he was present when his parents were murdered, but claim he was referring to his arrival at his parents’ home minutes after the murders and seeing them carried out on stretchers and wheeled away in ambulances.
The jury was deadlocked for the second time, with eight members voting to acquit and four members voting to convict. Judge Kelli Johnson declared a mistrial to have occurred.
After the trial, DeToto expressed optimism that his client, who is now the father of a son named Hendricks Antonio, will one day be vindicated.
DeToto stated, “We’re not going to stop fighting for AJ and the evidence is not going to get any better for them,” “It’s been probably millions of dollars of expenses by the district attorney’s office, but it’s time to let this man go.”
The District Attorney’s Office of Harris County issued a statement announcing its intention to retry AJ Armstrong for a third time.
The statement read, “Two people were murdered in the night, each shot in the head as they slept in their own bed; we will continue our fight for justice, and we look forward to presenting all the evidence to jurors,”