Court sentences Kaitlin Armstrong in famous Austin trial for cyclist's murder
Kaitlin Armstrong, the woman convicted of killing acclaimed cyclist Moriah Wilson, was sentenced Friday.
Armstrong was sentenced to 90 years in prison after being convicted of murder Thursday. She faced a maximum of 99 years since the prosecution did not pursue the death penalty.
The verdict came after the jury deliberated for about two hours following Thursday's closing arguments. The jury in her trial has listened to testimony for nearly three weeks.
On Wednesday, the state rested its case and the defense questioned a police officer and several expert witnesses. Defense attorneys also brought Colin Strickland, Armstrong's on again, off again boyfriend, back to the stand. Armstrong herself decided not to testify.
Prosecutor Ricky Jones makes closing arguments for state
The prosecution began its closing arguments visually. Attorneys played a video of Armstrong shooting a gun at a gun range, then played video from outside her friend's apartment she was staying at in Austin on the night of her murder. In the video, Wilson can be heard screaming before two gunshots.
The state also showed an autopsy photo of the gunshot wound on Wilson's chest. Attorney Rick Jones wrote on the slideshow, "There was silence and no more screams, then Armstrong put another bullet right in Wilson's heart."
"I've never seen so much evidence in my life against one person," Jones told the jurors.
Jones noted that the defense asked why every other gun in the world was not excluded. The prosecution's slideshow stated that no one else in the world with a Sig Sauger P365 left their DNA at the scene, no one else in the world was angry and jealous about their boyfriend being with Moriah Wilson, no one else in the world had their Jeep circling the location of the murder, and no one else in the world left the scene of the murder in Armstrong's Jeep two minutes after the crime was committed.
Jones said the defense argues that it could have been any black Jeep that was in the area on the night of the murder.
"However, her Jeep is traveling with her phone while sending personal texts. Proving that Kaitlin is in the Jeep, and Colin testified that she ultimately drives up to the house while Colin is in the garage," Jones said.
Jones said it isn't probably that someone else had Armstrong's phone. He said the in texts that were sent from her phone during that time, she provided her home address to someone and messaged Strickland about the real estate lawsuit the two were involved in at the time.
Jones showed a full-screen photo of Wilson on her bike, saying she was a 25-year-old prodigy who was taken away from her parents. He said Caitlin Cash, Wilson's friend who found her body, doesn't even like to go by her own name anymore. Jones said Cash said, "Kaitlin killed my friend." Jones also brought up how Cash pumped her friend's heart over 100 times in the ten minutes until first responders got there, not knowing that she had been dead for 45 minutes, making that point that no one should have to go through that.
Jones also talked about Armstrong fleeing the country after Wilson's death, saying, "She was on the beach, teaching yoga, while the Wilsons were trying to pick up the pieces."
Jones wrapped up his closing arguments by saying, "Don't do me a favor, do Mo Wilson a favor ... Justice for Mo Wilson ... Don't let her [Armstrong] run like she tried to do 19 days before the trial."
Defense begins closing arguments
Just before 11:30 a.m. Thursday, the defense began delivering its closing arguments.
Defense attorney Rick Cofer began in a quiet voice, saying that it has been one year, four months and 12 days that Armstrong has asserted her innocence. Cofer said this is a case based on assumptions, confirmation bias and a lack of direct evidence.
He said Strickland fostered insecurity and was not honest with Armstrong about his "special friend." He said Strickland testified that Armstrong was not a particularly jealous girlfriend and that it was Detective Spitler who brought in that narrative.
"Who brought up jealousy first? The Austin Police Department, Det. Richard Spitler. He first said that 'j' word because it was a great theory," Cofer said.
Cofer drives home the point that jealousy is a basic human emotion, but it does not make a murderer.
"What a wonderful and easy way to paint a woman and to tell this story," Cofer said. "The woman scorned, whether the facts meet the narrative or not. It's a great story. The truth of the matter is that Kaitlin's emotions and her actions were normal and routine and human, but she had to be portrayed as a jealous psycho to create some motive."
He said the problem in Armstrong and Stickland's relationship was not Wilson — it was always Strickland. Cofer also brought up the fact that Strickland changed Wilson's name in his phone and deleted his text exchange with her on May 11.
"What was different on May 11?" Cofer asked.
Cofer said the PowerPoint prosecutors showed during their closing arguments hid what is essential. He said the jury should look at the raw data.
"The problem isn't the data," Cofer said. "It's the presentation of the data."
Cofer also brought up the fact that the first time Strickland testified, he said he thought maybe Armstrong was the one to get out of the black Jeep when it pulled up to his home on May 11. But when Strickland testified again on Wednesday, his recollection was clear — Cofer said the one fact Strickland was able to remember was that Armstrong was the one to get out of the Jeep. Cofer said it's the one fact that drew attention away from Strickland and back to Armstrong.
Cofer also demonstrated how to hold a bike from the center and said that area was not swabbed for DNA, which he believes is where the killer would have grabbed the bike. He also brought up the fact that no DNA swabs were taken from inside Armstrong's Jeep to see if someone else could have been driving it that night.
He addressed the unknown DNA on Wilson's bike, gun and the rape kit that wasn't tested, saying that APD didn't want a single piece of evidence in front of the jury that might point away from Armstrong.
"They didn't want any evidence that could potentially be inconsistent with their version of the case," Cofer said.
Cofer also addressed Armstrong going to Costa Rica. He brought up the possibility that she could have been concerned her "boyfriend," Strickland, had killed Wilson, or that the person who killed Wilson could kill her next. He said with fear, people act in fight or flight, and she chose flight.
Cofer said the argument the state is making is a "beautifully simple story, but it's wrong."
He also brought up the fact that Strickland's laptop was the only piece of evidence to be removed from this case and that Colin seemed to have been given special treatment during the case.
"What a world to be treated like Colin Strickland has," Cofer said.
Cofer said APD thinks Armstrong killed Wilson because she fits the story they have created of a jealous lover. He said that story is so easy to tell because it ties into a framework of patriarchy and misogyny in America.
"If Kaitlin Armstrong didn't kill Wilson, who did? I don't know," Cofer told the jury, adding that people want answers not a mystery. He said that answer is so unsatisfying because humans demand closure.
Cofer brought up more of Strickland's testimony, where he said he thought of Armstrong as a mild and gentle person who is not particularly needy and said that he couldn't imagine her hurting anyone.
He asked the jury to start thinking about the unknowns.
"That's the whole point of the trial: The 'I don't knows' are important," he said. "It's easy to swipe them off the table and accept Det. Spitler's narrative, but jury duty is not supposed to be easy."
He also brought up the ballistic evidence and said it's not scientifically defensible. He compared it to DNA, saying both pieces of evidence how Armstrong as a possibility but not a definite match.
Cofer wrapped up his portion of the closing arguments by saying if the jury convicts Armstrong and then she's exonerated, it will be because of untested DNA. The state objected to that statement, and defense attorney Geoffrey Puryear took over for the defense.
Puryear questioned how much trust Armstrong would have in the professionalism of APD after May 12, the day she was brought in on a theft of service charge, then told she could go because APD made a mistake, then told she should stay to talk because Strickland brought up her name.
"Det. Spitler had tunnel vision and jumped to conclusions," Puryear said.
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