By JIM VERTUNO
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The murder trial of a Texas woman charged in the May 2022 shooting death of rising professional cyclist Anna “Mo” Wilson has ended with a guilty verdict and a 90-year prison sentence.
It took jurors only two hours to convict Kaitlin Armstrong of murder on Thursday and just over three hours to decide her sentence on Friday.
Investigators said Armstrong fled the U.S. shortly after Wilson was killed and underwent plastic surgery in an attempt to evade authorities.
Wilson — a Vermont native and former alpine skier at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire — was an emerging star in gravel and mountain bike riding when she was killed in a friend’s apartment in Austin. She had been preparing to participate in a Texas race that she was among the favorites to win.
In the hours before she was killed, Wilson went swimming and had a meal with Armstrong’s boyfriend, former pro cyclist Colin Strickland, with whom Wilson had a brief romantic relationship months earlier.
Investigators say Armstrong gunned down Wilson in a jealous rage, then used her sister’s passport to escape the U.S. before she was tracked down and arrested at a beachside hostel in Costa Rica.
Here’s a look at what happened in the trial:
There were no witnesses to the shooting or videos that place Armstrong in the apartment when Wilson was gunned down on May 11, 2022. Prosecutors built their case on a tight web of circumstantial evidence.
Strickland testified that he had to hide Wilson’s phone number from Armstrong under a fake name in his phone. Two of Armstrong’s friends said she told them she wanted to — or could — kill Wilson.
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. Data from Armstrong’s phone showed it had been used that day to track Wilson’s location via a fitness app that she used to chart her training rides.
Investigators also said shell casings near Wilson’s body matched a gun Armstrong owned.
Jurors heard the frantic emergency call from the friend who found Wilson’s body, saw the gruesome police camera footage of first responders performing CPR, and heard audio from a neighbor’s home surveillance system that prosecutors said captured Wilson’s final screams and three gunshots.
Wilson was shot twice in the head, and once through the heart.
ON THE RUN
Police interviewed Armstrong, among others, after Wilson was killed. The day after that interview, Armstrong sold her Jeep for more than $12,000 and headed to Costa Rica, where investigators say she had plastic surgery to change her nose, and she changed her hairstyle and color.
Armstrong evaded capture for 43 days as she moved around Costa Rica trying to establish herself as a yoga instructor before she was finally caught on June 29.
The jury also heard about another escape attempt by Armstrong, on Oct. 11, when she tried to flee two corrections officers who had escorted her to a medical appointment outside jail. Video showed Armstrong, in a striped jail uniform and arm restraints, running and trying to scale a fence.
She was quickly recaptured and faces a separate felony escape attempt charge.
Armstrong’s lawyers spent only a few hours presenting her defense and she did not testify on her own behalf.
The defense accused police of a sloppy investigation that too quickly focused on Armstrong as the sole suspect. And they tried to raise doubts among jurors by suggesting someone else could have killed Wilson, asking why prosecutors so quickly dismissed Strickland as a suspect.
But a police analyst testified that data tracking on Strickland’s phone showed him traveling away from Wilson’s apartment immediately after dropping her off, and taking a phone call at or near his home around the time Wilson was killed.
Armstrong’s lawyers tried to pick at that data as unreliable and imprecise. They questioned whether someone other than Armstrong had her vehicle and phone that night. They also called an expert on forensic metallurgy to try to debunk as faulty the firearms and tool-marking methods used to match the bullets to Armstrong’s gun.
The sentencing phase of the trial packed an emotional wallop.
Caitlin Cash, the friend who found Wilson and pumped her chest 100 times in a desperate attempt to save her through CPR, said she had texted Wilson’s family earlier that day with a picture of her starting a training ride. It included a message, “Your girl is in safe hands here in Austin.”
“I felt a lot of guilt not being able to protect her,” Cash said. “I fought for her with everything I had.”
Cash also described Anna Wilson’s mother, Karen, later coming to the apartment and lying on the bathroom floor to put herself in her daughter’s final place, stroking the floor tiles and crying.
Karen Wilson spoke twice, once before the sentence was delivered, and again afterward.
“When you shot Moriah in the heart, you shot me in the heart … all the people who loved her, pierced their hearts,” Karen Wilson said, looking at Armstrong as she left the witness stand.
Armstrong did not appear to return her gaze.