It was never about whether Gabriel Armandariz killed his two chubby-cheeked children — one 8 months old, the other a bubbly 2-year-old who just wanted to be your pal — his attorneys said from the beginning of his capital murder trial.
The case was always about how the community was going to respond, they said.
After convicting Armandariz on Feb. 27, the Tarrant County jury had two sentencing options, and on Thursday the nine women and three men chose life without the possibility of parole instead of sending him to Death Row.
Armandariz, 32, was convicted of strangling Luke, the infant, and Gatlin, the toddler.
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Defense attorneys never disputed that Armandariz used a green strap torn from a cloth grocery bag to hang Luke from the closet ceiling and then send a picture of the body to the baby’s mother, Lauren Smith.
The bodies were found in a crawl space underneath the residence that the father shared with his relatives in Graham, a town of about 9,000 residents about 90 miles northwest of Fort Worth.
Terri Moore, an attorney appointed to defend Armandariz along with Joetta Keene, told the jury that Armandariz’s life in prison would be awful enough. At about 100 pounds, Armandariz would be under constant threat from other prisoners, Moore said.
“What do you really think is going to happen to him in prison society?” Moore asked the jury during her closing arguments on Wednesday. “It is not a walk in the park. It is a horrible, miserable, existence.”
“Even if you are a convicted capital murderer and a threat to society, the law still favors life,” Moore said. “Mercy alone is a good enough reason to save Gabriel’s life. Any one of you can do it.”
Prosecutors from the Texas attorney general’s office, Lisa Tanner and Tom Cloudt, said Armandariz was too dangerous to society to live.
The attorney general’s office assists small counties such as Young County with complex and expensive cases when those counties lack resources.
“Gabriel is a lying, manipulating baby killer, and the evidence has shown this,” Cloudt told the jury earlier in the trial. “Luke is dead, and Gabriel is trying to get a beer. Gabriel is not concerned.”
Armandariz was starting a gang in Tulia, and when the family moved out of town, gang activity in Tulia subsided and then increased again when the family moved back to Tulia about a year later, Tanner said.
Tanner presented evidence showing that after Armandariz murdered her children, Armandariz sent Smith a letter comparing her with the Jezebel referred to in the Book of Revelation.
Capt. Ken Cobb, Young County jail administrator, read verses to the jury during his testimony on Wednesday. The verses say, in part: “I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”
Another letter read to the jury that Armandariz sent to a friend after the murders said: “I enjoy being loved but for some reason, I get more drive from hate. I always use hate as a motivator. It’s second nature now.”
“He could have chosen anything on earth other than murdering his children,” Tanner told the jury during her closing arguments on Thursday. “He had family support. He chose to ignore that.
“Gatlin and Luke had no choice about their lives or when they were going to die. What in heaven’s name could possibly mitigate this?”
Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752