HOUSTON, Texas -- In what could either hurt or help A.J. Armstrong's bid to clear his name in the double murder of his parents, the teen defendant's sister, Kayra Armstrong, took the stand in his trial Tuesday.
Entering day 11, it was expected that members of his family would testify on his behalf as character witnesses this week. But Kayra's testimony is significant because she has not spoken publicly about her older brother, the murder of her parents from 2016, or the fact A.J.'s lawyers are attempting to pin the killings to their brother, Josh Armstrong.
According to investigators, their parents, Antonio and Dawn Armstrong, were shot in the bedroom of their Bellaire-area home in July 2016. At the time of the late-night murders, A.J. and Kayra were also inside the home. Kayra, who was 14 at the time, was asleep in her room when the shots rang out. A.J. called police when he reportedly found his parents' bodies.
A.J., who was 16 at that time, was ultimately suspected of the shootings and was taken into custody that night. A.J. was later certified to stand trial as an adult.
A.J. claimed an intruder committed the murders, but the home security system indicated no intrusion around that time. It's based on this that defense attorneys suggested Josh, the older sibling, as a possible suspect. Josh moved out of the home shortly before the killings.
During questioning Tuesday, Kayra was asked to describe Josh and his interactions with Antonio Armstrong, who was not his biological father.
"He was there but he wasn't there. He was distant. He acted like he was the black sheep of the family. He acted like our parents loved us more because we were biologically related to both of them," Kayra testified, adding the two had a conflict.
Kayra also mentioned Josh had been doing drugs to the point that "he stopped caring about things like his appearance or getting haircuts."
In contrast, Kayra described A.J.'s relationship with his parents as normal, despite typical child-parent issues. Kayra confirmed that A.J. was having trouble with grades at Kinkaid in the months leading to the murders, as expressed earlier in the trial. However, she recalled A.J. being excited about starting his new school, Lamar High School.
Kayra was asked to recall her home's security system and the day of the murders. She revealed that their home welcomed a lot of people from time to time, entering and exiting through the garage. Their parents were respected community members.
"Anyone and everyone my parents knew" would come by, she said. Kayra also revealed there were problems with the alarm system at the house.
"Sometimes the alarm would set when a door is still open. Or sometimes, it would go off unexpectedly. It was really finicky," she said.
On the day of the murders, Kayra told jurors about heading home after several days with her grandmother and getting picked up by A.J., who appeared upbeat.
At home, Kayra spent time with her mother, Dawn Armstrong, before heading to bed. The next moment she would be awake was when A.J. came to her second floor bedroom and told her to come out of the house with him.
She recalled being half-asleep and not really processing what was going on despite the initial police presence. She also testified to seeing Josh arrive at the house and describing him as smelling of weed and acting like he was high. A.J. acted "a little concerned," she said.
She remembered seeing her dad, who was wounded but quickly fading, being brought out of the house on a stretcher. An emotional Kayra told jurors she was crying at this sight and added not seeing her mother's body. She said she was later interviewed by police and released to her grandparents.
Kayra testified that Josh had become violent and used more drugs in the months following the killings. She said he was hearing "demonic voices" and had mixed personalities.
Since the murders nearly three years ago, A.J.'s relatives have largely defended him through his multiple months in juvenile jail and the mental anguish of awaiting trial.
On Monday, Armstrong's lawyers brought up a former gym client of Antonio and A.J.'s girlfriend.
FAMILY SHATTERED: The murder trial of A.J. Armstrong
RELATED A.J. ARMSTRONG STORIES:
AJ Armstrong's sister breaks her silence and takes stand