Convicted child killer has a troubled, violent past

Convicted killer Gabriel Armandariz started getting into trouble when he was a young teen, according to testimony in his capital murder trial.
Convicted killer Gabriel Armandariz started getting into trouble when he was a young teen, according to testimony in his capital murder trial. Star-Telegram archives

A man convicted last week of murdering his two young sons has a long and violent history, witnesses testified at his capital murder trial this week.

Gabriel Armandariz, 32, was convicted Friday of fatally strangling his 8-month-old son, Luke, and his 2-year-old son, Gatlin, on April 13, 2011, at his family’s house in Graham. He hid their bodies in the crawl space under the house they shared with relatives, according to testimony.

Armandariz sent Lauren Smith, the mother of the two boys, a text message showing a photograph of Luke hanging from the closet ceiling with a green cloth strap wrapped around his neck, according to earlier testimony.

Prosecutors are asking for the death penalty.

Armandariz first came to the attention of authorities — initially the Texas juvenile justice system — when he was about 13, and his criminal activity escalated over the years, according to evidence presented by prosecutors and defense attorneys trying his case.

Born in 1982, Armandariz was placed on probation for a year on two criminal mischief charges in 1996. Eddie Subealdea, his juvenile probation officer in Swisher County, testified Wednesday that Armandariz was “defiant.”

“He told me he was not going to do his probation,” Subealdea said.

On Dec. 28, 1996, five days after meeting with Subealdea, Armandariz was charged with five more offenses related to a one-night crime spree in which was accused of burglazing three houses and two cars.

With the new charges in place, a judge ordered Armandariz to spend 60 days in a boot camp, Subealdea testified.

“I recommended he be sent to a Texas Youth Commission facility,” Subealdea said.

Two days before Armandariz was due to complete his stay in boot camp the state had him evaluated for mental illness so they would have a better idea of where to place him upon his release, Subealdea said.

The evaluation showed that Armandariz possessed good math skills, but had some difficulty with short-term memory loss and some difficulty relating to people, Subealdea said.

Armandariz’s parents told Subealdea that they had difficulty controlling their son.

“Gabriel showed no regret for his offenses,” Subealdea said. “His parents said they were trying to help him but he would go out of the window or door when they were asleep.”

Alice Monugian, Armandariz’s oldest sister — and one of 10 children in the family — testified that when she reached 12 it became her job to cook, clean and help raise her siblings.

She said her parents would sometimes fight and that her father was always the aggressor.

Before she moved out of the house at 18, Monugian said, the family had lived in three states and at least 10 houses. She testified that she had always felt close to Armandariz.

“I felt that they were all my babies but he was one of my favorites,” Monugian said. “He was always on my hip, clinging to me.”

Testimony is expected to continue Thursday in the capital murder trial, which was moved from Young County to Tarrant County because of extensive pre-trial publicity.

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752

Twitter: @mitchmitchel3