The murder trial of a Texas yoga teacher accused of gunning down her love rival and then fleeing the country began with explosive opening statements as the prosecution told jurors how they would hear the professional cyclist’s final screams and the shots that killed her.
Kaitlin Armstrong, 35, is accused of killing Moriah “Mo” Wilson, a competitive gravel and mountain bike racer, in May 2022 in a jealous rage over a love triangle involving her boyfriend, Colin Strickland. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Ms Armstrong was escorted into the courtroom on Wednesday without any restraints just before Travis County Assistant District Attorney Rickey Jones began his opening statements. Her auburn hair appeared to be back to its natural colour after she dyed it to a darker colour while she was on the run for 43 days last year.
“The last thing Mo did on this earth was scream in terror. You will hear those screams,” he told a packed courtroom.
“There is a surveillance camera with an audio coursing through it. We will play it for you. You’ll hear those screams. You will also hear ‘Pop! Pop!’” Mr Jones said, punching his fist into his hand for emphasis. “You won’t hear any more screams after that.”
Mr Jones then told the court that seconds after those shots, “Kaitlin Armstrong stood over Mo Wilson and put a third shot right in Mo Wilson’s heart.”
He said he would also show how Ms Armstrong tracked Wilson’s whereabouts as well as Mr Strickland’s communications with Wilson in the weeks leading up to the shooting.
Testimony will include Mr Strickland, who will talk about his relationship with Ms Armstrong and friendship with Wilson, Mr Jones said.
Caitlin Cash, the friend with whom Wilson was staying when she was shot, is also expected to take the stand and will describe how she found Wilson in her home, lying with her legs splayed out “as if she had been on a run.”
Defence attorney Geoffrey Puryear spoke to the court next, telling the jurors how Ms Armstrong was caught in a “web of circumstantial evidence.”
He pointed out that there is no video evidence or witnesses who can put his client at the scene of the shooting.
Mr Puryear also suggested that his client’s sudden departure from the country was not an attempt to escape police, but because she is passionate about travelling and yoga.
“She would have no reason to know about any warrant, You will hear Kaitlin is passionate about travelling and passionate about yoga,” Mr Puryear said.
The case drew international headlines when Ms Armstrong fled the country after her initial meeting with police just three days after the shooting on 11 May 2022. She was on the run for 43 days before being captured.
Mo Wilson was staying at her friend Caitlin Cash’s apartment on Maple Avenue, East Austin, and on 11 May 2022 arranged to meet fellow pro-cyclist Colin Strickland, who according to a police affidavit she had an on-again, off-again relationship with when he and his then-girlfriend Ms Armstrong were on a hiatus.
The pair went swimming at the Deep Eddy Pool public aquatic centre in Austin before going for a meal at nearby Pool Burger, Mr Strickland, 35, told investigators. He dropped Ms Wilson off at her friend’s home at around 8.30pm.
One minute later, a neighbour’s surveillance camera captured Ms Armstong’s Cherokee SUV outside the address.
Later that night, Ms Wilson was found bleeding and unconscious with multiple gunshot wounds by the friend she was staying with. Despite attempts to resuscitate her, she was pronounced dead at the scene.
Ms Armstrong was questioned by police just three days after the killing but once freed, she fled to Costa Rica leading the authorities on an intensive manhunt that ultimately ended in her capture despite her effort to disguise her identity with dyed hair and plastic surgery.
After 43 days on the run, she was brought back to the United States and charged with first-degree murder. She pleaded not guilty in July 2022 and has been held at the Travis County Correctional Complex in Texas on a $3.5m bond.
Last month, she attempted to escape from guards during a visit to a doctor’s office. She will face an additional felony escape charge punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Opening statements for both the prosecution and the defence were livestreamed on Wednesday, but cameras are banned for the remainder of the trial. The only other portion of the trial that will be livestreamed will be the closing arguments and the verdict.
Witness testimony is scheduled for the afternoon.
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