Jury sentences Young County child killer to life without parole

Convicted murderer Gabriel Armandariz, found guilty of killing his two young sons, waited in a downtown Fort Worth courtroom as a jury deliberated his fate Wednesday, March 11, 2015.
Convicted murderer Gabriel Armandariz, found guilty of killing his two young sons, waited in a downtown Fort Worth courtroom as a jury deliberated his fate Wednesday, March 11, 2015. Star-Telegram

After two days of deliberations, a Tarrant County jury sentenced a man they convicted of killing his two sons to life in prison with no chance for parole.

Both defense attorneys cried during their closing arguments as they begged the jury to spare the life of Gabriel Armandariz, 32, a man who witnesses testified strangled his two young sons nearly four years ago and faced the death penalty.

“Gabriel Armandariz is a flawed, brain-damaged human who had a breakdown and went to the darkest place of his life,” Joetta Keene, one of his defense attorneys, said shortly after the jury reached its verdict. “We thank God that the jurors chose mercy for this young man.”

Armandariz was accused of tearing a strap from his wife’s cloth grocery bag and using it to strangle his 8-month-old son, Luke, and 2-year-old son, Gatlin, on April 13, 2011. According to testimony, Armandariz used the green strap to hang his youngest son from the closet ceiling, and then sent a picture of the body to the baby’s mother.

Police testified that after he killed his sons, Armandariz hid their tiny bodies in a crawl space underneath the residence that the father shared with his relatives in Graham, a town of about 9,000 residents about 86 miles northwest of Fort Worth.

After nearly six weeks in the jury selection process and more than three weeks of trial, the jury of three men and nine women began deliberating Armandariz’s fate about 4:10 p.m. on Wednesday after finding him guilty and returned with their sentence about 11 a.m. Thursday.

Keene, who represented Armandariz along with Terri Moore, asked the jury during her closing argument what good it would do to condemn their client to death, and suggested that the worst punishment would be to force him to live with the event.

“Does killing Gabriel make you feel better? Does it make the small town where it happened say, ‘Yea, we killed that sorry SOB?’ What good is more death?” Keene asked.

Armandariz is not a monster, Keene said, adding that during the past four years she, her client and his relatives had achieved some kind of friendship.

“He’s a defective human being,” Keene said. “If your morality takes you to a place where you want to kill someone with a defective brain, extend mercy to his parents, Joe and Geneva, his sister Alice. As dysfunctional as they are and as dysfunctional as that house was, Joe and Geneva love Gabriel.”

The attorney asking the jury to put Armandariz to death for squeezing the life from his infant and toddler sons said there are special crimes, crimes so bad that society has no choice but to put the perpetrator to death.

This was one of those crimes, said prosecutor Lisa Tannner.

In Tanner’s description of the crime, Luke and Gatlin were afterthoughts, collateral damage, in Armandariz’ plot to destroy their mother, Lauren Smith, 26.

“They were the tools,” Tanner said.

Tanner told the jury there is a very simple concept that every parent in such a troubled relationship should internalize.

“You should love your children more than you hate your partner,” Tanner said.

She said there was no doubt in her mind that Armandariz loved his children. But his need to destroy the woman who in his mind destroyed his family, who cheated on him with another man, took precedence over that love, she said.

“This is the worst of the worst,” Tanner said, describing Armandariz’s crime. “What I used to think was the worst was summarily surpassed by this case. When someone does something like this, how can we allow that person to remain among us?”

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752

Twitter: @mitchmitchel3

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