A Houston woman has testified about allegations of a prostitution ring and death threats that, if true, would be key to the defense of a Bellaire teen accused of killing both his parents as they slept.
Antonio Armstrong Jr. was 16 when he was arrested on a charge of capital murder, accused of fatally shooting his mother, Dawn, and father, former NFL player Antonio Armstrong, in their beds on July 29, 2016. He has been certified to stand trial as an adult and faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.
Armstrong’s defense lawyers have accused the Harris County District Attorney’s office of concealing an audiotape of an interview Maxine Adams gave Houston police that detailed her allegations, which the defense says bolsters the teenager’s story that the couple was killed in a home invasion.
“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,” said defense attorney Rick DeToto, adding an 18-month delay in finding out about the specific allegations denied his client’s right to a fair trial. “It could be considered obstruction of justice.”
Adams, a family friend of the slain couple, went to the Houston Police Department’s downtown headquarters five months after they were killed and detailed an alleged prostitution ring involving the older Armstrong and death threats made against him. The 42-year-old also apparently tried to change his life insurance policy because of the threats, DeToto said..
Prosecutors told DeToto and fellow defense attorney Chris Collings about the allegations three months later, but said they were not credible. Prosecutors did not mention the audiotape of the interview that had specific information that could be investigated by police. Little was apparently done to investigate Adams’ allegations, DeToto claimed.
After Adams gave her interview, HPD detectives told prosecutors they would open an investigation under a separate case number so the defense would not know about it, according to emails attached to court filings.
More than a year and a half after the interview, prosecutors released the audiotape and 50,000 pages of phone records on the eve of a possible start date of the trial in June.
That led the teen’s defense team to ask the capital murder charges dismissed.
“Antonio Armstong Jr. has suffered demonstrable prejudice or a substantial threat thereof and the Court will be unable to neutralize this taint by any other means,” they wrote in their filings.
State District Judge Kelli Johnson denied that motion, but is allowing a hearing for the defense to question Adams about her allegations so they can prepare for trial.
The district attorney’s office filed a response saying that prejudice can not be judged until after a trial, so the issue is not ripe enough to debate.
They also said that the pre-trial remedy for a possible Brady violation has always been more time for the defendant to prepare for the trial, not a dismissal.
Armstrong’s defense team will likely continue to try to get the charges dismissed by arguing the teen’s case was harmed by not knowing about Adam’s claims for a year and half while investigating the case.
In court records, the defense notes that they did not have that information during a hearing in March 2017 when Armstrong was certified to stand trial as an adult.
They also criticize investigators in the case for allegedly telling Adams that she did not have to talk to the defense unless they got a grand jury subpoena.
“It’s an attempt by HPD and the DA’s office to keep exculpatory evidence from us, then to mold and shape that evidence through Maxine Adams by trying to talk to her and then try to cover it up,” DeToto said.
The older Antonio Armstrong, a former Texas A&M University football star who played professionally, and his wife, Dawn, both 42, owned a small chain of fitness centers. He was also an assistant pastor at his mother’s Gulfton area church.
They were fatally shot by someone who put pillows over their faces as they slept in the bedroom of their Bellaire townhouse on July 29, 2016.
Their son called police around 1:41 a.m. and said he was hiding in an upstairs closet, according to prosecutors. He told police that he heard gunshots and saw a masked man inside the home. When police arrived, Armstrong disabled the home security system and let police in.
Police found a .22-caliber pistol and a note on the kitchen counter reading, “I have been watching for a long time. Get me.” Prosecutors said there were no signs of forced entry within the home.
The teen was arrested after police said his story did not make sense, prosecutors said.
During the hearing to certify him as an adult, prosecutors said the younger Armstrong was removed from his private school, Kinkaid, where he played football, because of low academic grades and his parents enrolled him at HISD’s Lamar High School.
Prosecutors have said the teen’s parents apparently caught their son smoking marijuana in his room, and took away his car and cell phone. A crack pipe also was found inside the young man’s room after police searched the house, prosecutors said. Police also found ID cards of other Kinkaid students, which can be used as debit cards at the school, in his room.
After his parents were found dead, Armstrong admitted to a homicide detective that he fired a gun in his room shortly before they were murdered, prosecutors said.
Bullet holes were found in his comforter and pillow and also in the floor of his room.
If convicted, he faces life in prison with a possibility of parole after 40 years.