The Texas yoga teacher charged with killing a pro cyclist last year before fleeing to Costa Rica was sentenced to 90 years in prison after being found guilty of first-degree murder by a jury on Thursday.
Kaitlin Armstrong, 35, was accused of gunning down 25-year-old Anna Moriah “Mo” Wilson, a rising star in the world of off-road bike racing, out of jealousy because she suspected Wilson was romantically involved with her boyfriend, champion cyclist Colin Strickland, 35.
Members of the jury deliberated for just over two hours Thursday before reaching a verdict. They reconvened Friday for sentencing deliberations. (Texas defendants have the option to let a jury, rather than a judge, decide their sentence.)
Wilson was shot three times in a friend’s apartment in Austin, Texas, where she was staying for an upcoming gravel bike race, at about 9:15 p.m. on May 11, 2022. Strickland had dropped her off about 45 minutes earlier, after the two had gone swimming and had dinner at a local restaurant.
Mariah "Mo" Wilson competes at the Rock Cobbler gravel bike race in 2022.
The time of Wilson’s death was pinpointed by screams and gunshots recorded by a neighbor’s security camera, said prosecutors, who played the harrowing recording in their closing argument and earlier in the trial.
“The last thing Mo did on this Earth was scream in terror,” prosecutor Rickey Jones told jurors in his opening statements on Nov. 1. “You can hear those screams, and they are followed by two gunshots. One is to the front of the head and one to the side of the head. You won’t hear any more screams, and there will be silence. Four or five seconds of silence while Kaitlin Armstrong stood over Mo Wilson and then put a third shot right into Mo Wilson’s heart.”
Caitlin Cash, the woman Wilson had been staying with, found Wilson’s body when she returned to her apartment just before 10 p.m. after having dinner with friends.
In closing arguments Thursday, Jones said she told him “Call me Cash — not Caitlin,” when they first met, because “Kaitlin killed my friend.”
“Poor thing doesn’t even like her own name anymore,” Jones told jurors.
Jones reviewed evidence from surveillance videos, GPS data from Armstrong’s black Jeep, and cellphone records that indicated she was circling the neighborhood before she parked near the apartment, and then drove away just minutes after the shooting. Jones also went over DNA and ballistics evidence, noting that DNA found on Wilson’s bike, hidden in some bushes near the apartment, belonged to Armstrong, and that bullets found near Wilson’s body were fired from Armstrong’s gun, a firearm Strickland had purchased for her.
Within a day of Wilson’s May 11 killing, police zeroed in on Armstrong as a suspect. Two of Armstong’s friends separately called police after Wilson’s killing, advising them to look into Armstrong. Both testified that they had had previous conversations in which Armstrong, shaking with anger, said she wanted to kill Wilson.
Jones described their “unsolicited” calls to police as “chilling.” He told the jury: “When Armstrong’s two best friends heard that Mo Wilson was dead, they called the police, unsolicited, and they said, ‘Better check her out, better look at her.’”
Armstrong had an outstanding warrant for leaving an esthetician’s office without paying for her Botox treatment, so the day after Wilson’s killing, investigators arrested and briefly questioned her. Authorities couldn’t detain her because of a clerical error, and let her go when she asked to leave.
Armstrong then sold her Jeep, flew to New York City and, on May 18 — a day after authorities issued a warrant for her arrest on a first-degree murder charge — used her sister’s passport to fly to Costa Rica. She eluded capture for 43 days, settling in a small beach town, using an alias, dyeing her hair and getting plastic surgery to change her appearance, according to receipts, emails and other records seen by the jury.
Armstrong’s sister, Christie Armstrong, did not testify during the trial but took the stand during the punishment phase Thursday. According to reportersin the courtroom, when Jones asked whether Kaitlin stole her passport or she gave it to her, Christie replied: “I didn’t give it to her, so she must have taken it.”
While Armstrong was a fugitive, prosecutors said, internet searches found on her iCloud account included “Can pineapples burn fingerprints,” “Moriah Wilson murder,” her own name, and questions about rhinoplasty, or nose jobs.
Federal marshals arrested Armstrong on June 29 at a hostel where she had been staying.
Kaitlin Armstrong enters the courtroom Thursday to hear the verdict in her murder trial in Austin, Texas.
Weeks before the murder trial began, on Oct. 11 of this year, Armstrong attempted to escape from custody after an off-site medical appointment, sprinting away from corrections officers. One of them testified at the trial, saying she captured Armstrong after a 10-minute chase, which was filmed by a bystander. Authorities previously said she had been “exercising vigorously” as part of her escape plan.
Defense attorneys questioned the reliability of the prosecution’s evidence, and seemed to try to shift the blame to Strickland in their closing arguments. They emphasized that he had bought the gun said to have been used by Armstrong in the killing, and claimed that he had been treated favorably by investigators. Armstrong had fled, they said, because she was afraid her boyfriend had killed Wilson, and did not know there was a warrant for her arrest when she flew to Costa Rica.
Investigators have said Strickland had an alibi for the time of the killing and he was never accused of any wrongdoing in the case.
Before the sentencing Thursday, Cash and Wilson’s parents and brother spoke through tears about the magnitude of their loss.
“When you love someone that much and it’s taken from you,” Karen Wilson said, “the depth of the joy of that love is equal to the depth of the pain you have to live with. I just miss her so much.”
Cash said she knew the Wilson family before she met Mo. As Mo left the apartment for her last bike ride, she snapped a photo and sent it to her mom with the message: “Your girl is in safe hands here in Austin.”
“I would’ve done anything to stand in the way of that bullet,” her mother said. “I wasn’t there to protect her, and she died all alone on the floor of her friend’s house. She did not deserve a death like that.”
“Our hearts continue to break for the Wilson family,” Travis County District Attorney José Garza said in a statement provided to HuffPost. “While it won’t bring Moriah Wilson back, I hope this verdict brings closure and peace to the victim’s family.”
Wilson’s attorneys did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Armstrong will be eligible for parole in 30 years for the murder conviction. She could face an additional sentence of 20 years for her attempt to escape from custody on Oct. 11. The hearing in that case, on a felony charge of escape causing bodily injury, is scheduled for next month.