Kaitlin Armstrong trial

A star cyclist was killed. Now her jealous love rival has been convicted of murder

Kaitlin Armstrong evaded police for 43 days after being named a suspect in the murder of Moriah Wilson. This week, her murder trial ended. Andrea Cavallier and Mike Bedigan explains how events unfolded

Thursday 30 November 2023 17:15 GMT
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<p>Kaitlin Armstrong, Moriah Wilson and Colin Strickland</p>

Kaitlin Armstrong, Moriah Wilson and Colin Strickland

Nearly a year and a half after Kaitlin Armstrong made international headlines for allegedly killing her romantic rival and then going on the run for 43 days, her murder trial has come to a close.

The Texas woman found herself at the centre of a love triangle with her boyfriend Colin Strickland and professional cyclist Anna Moriah “Mo” Wilson, who was found dead of multiple gunshot wounds at a friend’s house on 11 May 2022.

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.

The 35-year-old yoga teacher and realtor 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.

Kaitlin Armstrong's murder trial begins today

On Thursday, a jury of eight women and six men found her guilty after just two hours of deliberation.

As her trial comes to a close in Austin, here’s what we now know about the case.

A rising star cyclist’s murder

Anna Moriah “Mo” Wilson, 25, a competitive gravel and mountain bike racer from Vermont, was found dead on 11 May in her friend’s Austin, Texas apartment.

A month before her death, Wilson beat 30 of the top gravel racing cyclists in the United States to claim the Fuego 80k at the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, California.

Wilson followed up that victory with a win at the Belgian Waffle Ride in San Diego on 30 April 2022 and arrived in Austin on 10 May as the favourite to win the Gravel Locos in Hico, a few days later.

She was staying at her friend Caitlin Cash’s apartment on Maple Avenue, East Austin, and on 11 May 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 Armstrong were on a hiatus.

Moriah ‘Mo’ Wilson was one of the top gravel racing cyclists in the world

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 Wilson off at her friend’s home at around 8.30pm.

One minute later, a neighbour’s surveillance camera captured Armstong’s Cherokee SUV outside the address.

Later that night 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.

According to a police affidavit, Mr Strickland told detectives in a 12 May interview that Armstrong had returned to their home in her SUV around 9.20pm.

Mr Strickland said he struck up a relationship with Wilson in October 2021 when he and Armstrong were on a brief hiatus. Texts between him and Wilson showed that she was under the impression they were still dating.

According to the affidavit, a friend called police on 14 May to say that Armstrong had learned of the “on again, off again” relationship in January.

Another caller, identified by the pseudonym Jane to shield her identity from Armstrong, said she “became furious and was shaking in anger” and stated that she wanted to kill Wilson.

She began calling Wilson and ordering her to stay away from her boyfriend, according to the affidavit.

Colin Strickland has cooperated with the police investigation into Mo Wilson’s homicide

In an interview with police, Mr Strickland said around that time he purchased 9mm handguns for himself and Armstrong.

During his police interview, Mr Strickland spoke in glowing terms about Wilson’s prospects as a pro-cyclist, describing her as the best gravel cyclist in the United States, and possibly the world.

He was not nearly as flattering about his girlfriend Armstrong, also a “competitive” cyclist, telling officers he had asked her not to ride with him because she “holds him back”.

Key suspect Kaitlin Armstrong freed after questioning

Armstrong was briefly taken into custody on a separate warrant before investigators allowed her to leave when they realised the warrant wasn’t valid.

When Austin detectives investigating the murder interviewed their key suspect three days after her death, they found her to be angry and evasive.

Armstrong “turned her head and rolled her eyes in an angry manner” when asked by detective Katy Conner on 14 May about her boyfriend Colin Strickland spending time with Ms Wilson on the day of her murder 72 hours earlier, according to a police affidavit.

Austin police called Armstrong in for questioning after they discovered that the real estate agent and part-time yoga instructor had an open misdemeanour warrant on a theft of services charge.

She was shown video surveillance of her black Jeep Cherokee outside the house where Wilson had been shot dead. Police say she was “still and guarded”, and eventually nodded at the suggestion that “maybe you were upset and just in the area”.

During the interview, detectives learned that the arrest warrant was not valid and they couldn’t hold her.

Authorities would not set eyes on Armstrong again for another 43 days, when she was arrested at Don Jon’s Surf and Yoga Hostel in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, by agents assigned to the seaside resort town’s tourist police division.

Weeks on the run

The day after her 14 May 2022 police interview, Armstrong sold her Jeep Grand Cherokee to a dealership for $12,200 before flying from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to Houston Hobby and then taking a connecting Southwest flight to LaGuardia in New York.

An arrest warrant was issued for her on 17 May, and the next day she turned up at Newark Airport in New Jersey. Authorities did not see her boarding an outbound flight.

Brandon Filla, Deputy US Marshal Western District of Texas, told The Independent agents later tracked Armstrong to Costa Rica after learning she had obtained a valid US passport in another person’s name and checking flight records.

They tipped off authorities in the Central American country, who began combing likely tourist hangouts for any sign of the fugitive.

Kaitlin Armstrong faces charges of murder, first degree felony, and theft of service

They eventually caught up with her at Don Jon’s, a $17-a-night hostel and yoga retreat in the popular surf resort of Santa Teresa,  170 miles (275km) west of the capital San Jose on the Nicoya Peninsula.

Armstrong reportedly gave police an alias, which did not show up when traced the name through the country’s immigration service. She then provided her real surname, which officers matched to her international arrest warrant.

She had cut and dyed her hair in an effort to change her appearance, and had a bandage on her nose.

A staff member at Don Jon’s confirmed to The Independent that Armstrong had been staying there at the time of her arrest.

“She looked much different than her older photos,” a person who claimed to be with Armstrong when she was arrested commented on an online forum.

“She did have a bandage on the nose she told me was a surf accident. I was about to ask how exactly it happened because if a surfboard did that to her nose she should be dead in the water. I think she had surgery done.”

Sources also told Velonews Armstrong had undergone plastic surgery.

Armstrong had been “trying to set up another type of lifestyle” in the town, Mr Filla told The Independent.

She was then deported to the US, where she was charged with first-degree murder and could be liable for the death penalty.

In a statement after her arrest, Wilson’s family said at the time: “We’re relieved to know this phase of uncertainty is now behind us, and we trust that justice will prevail.”

Second escape attempt

On 11 October 2023, Armstrong was scheduled to attend a medical appointment and required transport to a physician.

She was accompanied by a corrections officer to the medical facility, where she received treatment. While she and the officer were leaving the facility, Armstrong began running.

A recording – shown at trial – captured the moment Armstrong attempted to escape her corrections officer. In the video, she can be seen running across a yard toward a brown wooden fence. The corrections officer pursues, but slips and falls in the grass.

Armstrong leaps onto the fence as the video cuts out. She ran for about a mile before she was eventually caught and returned to jail by the corrections officers.

“During the foot pursuit, officers advised inmate Armstrong to remove her county-issued black and white striped uniform pants, which revealed she was wearing thermal pants underneath in an effort to disguise her appearance as an inmate,” according to the affidavit.

“Inmate Armstrong was also able to manipulate her left hand from the hand restraints to assist in her attempted escape.”

Woman accused of killing elite cyclist appears to escape custody

An arrest affidavit obtained by Court TV this week revealed she appeared to have spent time planning last week’s escape.

Investigators reviewed surveillance video footage of Armstrong’s jail cell and found that she had spent the last several months “running, doing squats, and yoga throughout her dayroom and recreation time.”

It was also determined that Armstrong had complained about a leg injury to get an outside medical appointment, “as well as a medical request restricting the use of leg restraints.”

The exercise and the alleged leg injury were highlighted as evidence that Armstrong planned the escape attempt, according to the affidavit.

Investigators said they also found a metal pen and dental floss inside her cell. A pin had been broken off the pen, and officers said it may have been used to remove her handcuffs.

The trial

Armstrong was charged with first-degree murder over Wilson’s death.

Her trial took place at Travis County Criminal Court with District Judge Brenda Kennedy presiding. The judge ruled that cameras would be allowed in the courtroom for the opening statements, the closing arguments, and the verdict only.

Over the course of two and half weeks jurors heard testimony from Mr Strickland, friends of Armstrong, and law enforcement personnel.

During his testimony Mr Strickland said that while he and Armstrong loved each other, their relationship was “tumultuous” due to her constant fits of jealousy. He later appeared to try and distance himself from his former partner further.

“You know Kaitlin Armstrong very well, don’t you?” Ms Armstrong’s attorneys asked, to which Mr Strickland replied: “No, I do not,” prompting an audible gasp in the court,

Evidence presented at trial also included the harrowing 911 call placed by Ms Cash after she had found her friend’s body.

As the call was played in court, Ms Cash was visibly distraught on the stand and many of Wilson’s family left while others were seen weeping. Armstrong was laregely emotionless throughout proceedings, despite multiple graphic photos of Wilson’s body being shown.

Vehicle satellite records, phone-tracking data and surveillance video from a nearby home showed Armstrong’s Jeep driving around the apartment and parking in an alley shortly before Wilson was killed. Key DNA evidence later linked Armstrong to the crime scene.

Kaitlin Armstrong remained largely emotionless throughout her trial

During closing arguments, prosecutors pointed out what they suggested was overwhelming evidence linking Armstrong to the crime, and asked jurors to ignore the “rabbit holes” the defence had asked them to go down.

Assistant District Attorney Rick Jones told the jury: “The last thing Mo Wilson did was scream in terror.”

“She stood over her after she shot her in the head twice and put another bullet in her heart ... you heard the medical examiner. That third bullet was in her heart.”

Mr Jones said the evidence against Armstrong was among the most damning he had seen in his career, noting that two of Ms Armstrong’s friends testified she told them she wanted to, or could, kill Wilson.

“I’ve never seen so much evidence in my life against one person,” he said.

Defense Attorney Rick Cofer told the jury that Armstrong had been “caught in a nightmare of circumstantial evidence.”

The verdict

On Thursday November 16, jurors returned a guilty verdict after just two hours of deliberation.

Wilson’s family members in the courtroom cried and embraced each other while Armstrong remained emotionless as the verdict was read.

Before her sentencing, victim impact statements were read out by multiple members of Wilson’s family and her friends. The court also heard from Armstrong’s family.

Her mother, Karen Wilson, said her daughter was strong, independent and delicate, and had hated inconveniencing others.

“I just miss her so much and nothing here can bring her back and I knew that coming down here. I would have done anything to stand in the way of that bullet and I wasn’t there to protect her,” she said.

“And she died all alone on the floor of her friend’s house. She did not deserve a death like that.”

Her father, Eric Wilson, said how proud he was of his daughter, telling the court: “You’re living through a bad nightmare, a bad dream... this is not a bad nightmare, this is reality. I think about it every night.”

She was a beautiful girl, a beautiful young woman. She was just coming into her own really as a cyclist in that last year and I knew that she wanted to be a professional cyclist. And she achieved that dream.”

Wilson’s brother, Matthew Wilson, broke down when describing how he had learned of his sister’s death, telling the court he felt his pain had been different to that of his parents.

“My sister was my closest confidant. My only sibling. Only person in the world that I could talk to about certain experiences that only she could understand. She was a really, really good listener,” he said.

Mo Wilson’s photo is shown in court during the murder trial of Kaitlin Armstrong

The court also heard from Armstrong’s father and sister. Again, she showed no emotion as the gave testimony.

Speaking about the murder trial, Mike Armstrong, her father, said: “It’s a very difficult time. It’s been a tragic time. But I also want to say that it’s far worse for the Wilson family. I can’t imagine what they are going through.

“I’ve always known that it’s horrible what we are going through, but I know what they are going through is worse.”

Christine Armstrong said she respected the verdict of the jury, but described her sister as “a loving, caring, beautiful, bright light.”

“She’s just such a special person. She’s always been such a special person... I’ve always looked up to her. I just love her so much and I hate that she’s been painted in this light.

“She’s not a bad person. She’s a really good person, she’s always cared for other people and if you ask anyone who knows her, they would say the same thing.”

The sentencing

On Friday November 17, just over a year and a half from Wilson’s murder, Kaitlin Armstron was sentenced to 90 years in prison.

Jurors deliberated for around three and half hours before delivering their verdict. Armstrong did not appear to react to the sentencing.

After the verdict was read out, Ms Cash and Karen Wilson returned to the stand to address Armstrong directly for one final time.

“Kaitlin Armstrong. I’m not sure that my words can penetrate your heart but I’m gonna try,” Ms Wilson said. “I hate what you did to my beautiful daughter it was very selfish and cowardly.

“When you shot Moriah in the heart, you shot me in my heart. You shot Eric and Matt in the heart... You shot cousins and aunts and uncles and all the people who loved her, there in their hearts.”

Ms Wilson finished her remarks by urging Armstrong to admit her guilt and seek forgiveness.

“It’s up to you. There is no winner in this story. Your actions have caused all sides to suffer,” she said.

“There is a ripple effect of sorrow upon sorrow upon sorrow. Moriah is free of this sorrow, though. She is more alive today than any of us here.”

As she left the stand, Ms Wilson looked at Armstrong directly. It was not clear if Armstrong returned her gaze.

Speaking to reporters outside court following the verdict, Wilson’s father, Eric Wilson said that it was “a time for prayer and healing”.

“This sad story is a perfect example of why integrity and honesty are crucial in our personal relationships and how dishonesty can often lead to unintended consequences,” he said.

“Selfish manipulation, jealousy and hatred never lead to positive outcomes. Violence is never a good way to solve personal, personal issues. In fact, violence doesn’t solve anything. It only leads to more suffering.

Mr Wilson added: “Our lives would change forever. But with this challenging ordeal now behind us we are ready to move forward and continue our healing, and we will do this with Moriah’s strong, determined, gentle and kind spirit, because we know this is what she would want us to do.”

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