Disturbing Details About Former NFL Player Antonio Armstrong's Murder

Police responded to a frantic phone call placed by a 16-year-old boy in the early morning hours of July 29, 2016 (via ABC News). When units arrived at the suburban Houston residence of Antonio Armstrong Sr., they discovered that someone had shot and killed Armstrong's wife Dawn. Her lifeless body was discovered in the master bedroom of the home. Armstrong had also been shot and was transported to a local hospital for emergency treatment. He died there a short time later.

Armstrong was an All-American football player who had a stellar college career at Texas A&M in the early 1990s (per Pro Football Reference). In 1995, he was drafted in the sixth round of the NFL draft by the San Francisco 49ers and made his pro football debut at the start of the 1995-96 season with the Miami Dolphins. He played four games as a linebacker for the Miami club before being sidelined by an ankle injury (per X Games). 

After being released from his contract, Pro Football Archives reports that Armstrong would be selected to play for various teams in the Canadian Football League, playing a combined five seasons in the Great White North. Though his career in the sport wasn't a lengthy one, Armstrong used his experiences to develop some business acumen to help him after he retired from the sport. HuffPost tells us that Armstrong opened up the First Class Training gym in the Houston area. He was also a dedicated member of his church, serving as an associate pastor. Why would anyone want Armstrong and his wife dead?

Armstrong Sr.'s teenage son is implicated in the murders

When 16-year-old Antonio Armstrong Jr. telephoned police, he claimed that he had heard gunshots coming from his parents' second-floor bedroom. When authorities arrived, they found the former football player and his wife in bed with gunshot wounds to the head (via ABC News). Police brought the teenage son of the slain couple into custody and questioned him about the shootings. During his police interview, Armstrong Jr. stated that after he had heard the gunshots, he saw a masked person fleeing the house. 

What may have got the investigators suspicious was the home's alarm log — it showed that the alarm had never been tripped that evening and was still in the "armed" state when Armstrong Jr. phoned police to report the gunshots. Additionally, they discovered that the alarm was disarmed by the teen so that the police could be let inside the home. Per ABC News, the police continued to question Armstrong Jr. while in custody, at one point telling their suspect that his account of the events just "isn't adding up." But on the taped interview, Armstrong Jr. can be heard denying that he had any involvement in either shooting. Police were not convinced by their suspect's denial. When the interview concluded, Armstrong Jr. was placed under arrest for two counts of capital murder. Because he was only 16 at the time, he was charged as a juvenile. 

Prosecutors present some damning evidence against the teen

As prosecutors began to develop their case against their teen suspect, the bodies of Antonio Armstrong Sr. and Dawn were laid to rest. ABC News reports that their suspected killer was permitted to attend their funeral services, though he was kept in handcuffs the entire time.

The state reviewed some interesting facts that police were able to give them about the murder scene, making the argument that Antonio Armstrong Jr. was the culprit. A bullet hole was discovered in the floor of the teen's third-floor bedroom. It was determined that a shot was fired from that room, the bullet traveling into the bedroom of Dawn and Armstrong Sr. immediately below it. Though the suspect denied ever handling his father's gun initially, he changed course and told investigators that he was showing the gun to a friend several days before the murders and accidentally discharged it.

ABC News revealed that investigators also found scorch marks on the carpeting covering a set of stairs. When questioned, the suspect maintained that he was playing with matches two days before the murders and dropped one, setting the carpet ablaze. But it was discovered that the stairs had been doused with gasoline before they were lit (via Fox 26 Houston). This prompted prosecutors to believe that Armstrong Jr. was trying to set the house on fire, blocking the only stairs his parents could have used to escape with a wall of flames (the fire ultimately died out).

Armstrong Jr.'s first trial ended in a hung jury

Antonio Armstrong Jr. was certified by the court to stand trial as an adult on two charges of capital murder. When he was brought to court on these charges in April 2019, the defendant was supported by many family members and friends, all of whom maintained the teen's innocence (per ABC7). During the trial, his defense attorneys would cite the lack of physical evidence in the case. But they also began to build a case around another family member they believe is a more likely suspect in the murders: Josh.

The defendant's young sister was put on the stand to testify on his behalf. Kayra Armstrong was asked about the relationship the rest of the family had with the eldest Armstrong child, Josh. Josh was Armstrong Sr.'s stepson, the biological son of Dawn. Kayra spoke on the stand about how her older half-brother was a heavy drug user whose use of illegal substances was beginning to escalate in the months before the murders. She also testified that Josh was a violent person and had been diagnosed with mental health problems. At one point, she stated that Josh was hearing demonic voices.

Kayra would go on to say that Josh was the "black sheep" of the family and was distant from the rest of the Armstrongs (via ABC7). According to her, Josh felt that he didn't belong and had moved out in the months before the murders. After long deliberation, the jury could not reach a verdict. Fox 26 Houston reports that the judge was forced to declare a mistrial.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

A second jury deliberated Armstrong's Jr.'s fate in late 2022

With one mistrial under their belt, the prosecution went to bat again to get Antonio Armstrong Jr. convicted of murder. In late 2022, a second trial began (per FOX 26 Houston). Prosecutors were perhaps a bit more hopeful this time around, as they introduced a bevy of new evidence they felt would strengthen their case against the defendant. Along with the evidence they had used before, the prosecution revealed that the accused had done an internet search for "How can a car bomb be rigged to explode when started?" in the days leading up to the murders. They argued that, combined with the fire they maintained he had intentionally set, showed that he was premeditating murder. They also introduced Armstrong Jr.'s cell phone records.

Prosecutors argued that the defendant was constantly on his cell phone, except for the timeframe of the murders. They showed that cellular activity on the phone stopped at 1:02 a.m. and plugged in at 1:04 a.m. This same phone was unplugged from its charger at 1:08 a.m., with the second-floor motion sensor in the home becoming triggered one minute later. This is significant, the prosecution claims, because, for the several minutes of cellular inactivity, the phone's display is lit up. This, they argue, is because Armstrong Jr. was using his phone's flashlight app to light his way down the second-floor hallway to his parent's room.

But this wouldn't be enough to convict. After many days of deliberation, the second jury deadlocked, with eight of the 12 voting to acquit. 

Armstrong Jr.'s third murder trial is looming

Prosecutors are hoping that the third time will be the charm in the capital murder case of Antonio Armstrong Jr. But before the February 2023 trial goes underway, the defendant decided to break his silence and speak to the media for the first time since his 2016 arrest (per FOX 26 Houston).

Armstrong Jr. sat down with ABC's "20/20" for an interview with reporter Matt Gutman, which aired on the program on January 6 (via ABC News). Not surprisingly, he still maintains his innocence. He told the outlet, "There's no way possible. I couldn't even fathom the idea of killing my parents." He still has family members in his corner as the third trial is preparing to go underway, too. His grandfather, Keith Whitely, was also interviewed by ABC News. "I thought someone lost their mind trying to charge my grandson with killing his mom and dad. No way," he said in support.

The defense attorney Armstrong Jr. retained was steadfast in his client's innocence. Rick DeToto told "20/20" that the severe lack of physical evidence pointing to Armstrong Jr., coupled with the troubled history of his older step-brother, made a weak case for the state. A faulty alarm system, a break-in at one of Armstrong Sr.'s gyms, and no powder residue on his client's hands should have pointed investigators in a direction away from the one they are bringing to trial for the third time.

Ultimately, Armstrong Jr.'s fate will be decided by the 12 men and women on the jury. Provided, of course, that this time they will be able to come together for a unanimous decision.