Cold Case File: Trinity man's unsolved murder

By Jena Johnson - bio | email

Photojournalist - Brad Hill | email

TRINITY, TX (KTRE) – Police say it was October 2002 when crime and drugs ran rampant through the northside of Trinity. Outsiders didn't walk these streets. Sounds of gunshots often pummeled the night.

"We heard the shot," said O.C. Harris, neighbor and cousin of victim Norris Armstead. "Over here they were shooting all the time back then."

Instead a gunshot to the head had killed Norris Armstead. Harris was there the night of the murder.

"It was just hard to see someone really kind of kin to you laying out in a puddle of blood," Harris said.

Armstead was just walking down the street when he was gunned down. But police believe he was a victim of mistaken identity.

"Based on the information we got from Barabas Simmons who claimed he was shot at by Ismail Shabazz and based on the information we got from the murder investigation from Brent Cunningham and the method Brent Cunningham was killed which was also by ambush, those things put together plus the fact that Barabas Simmons was known to have physical characteristics similar to Mr. Armstead," said Texas Ranger Pete Maskunas. "Put all those things together it points to that Ismail Shabazz is the probably the person we should be looking at."

Charged for the murder of Brent Cunningham, Shabazz is currently behind bars.

"We believe that Mr. Shabazz mistook Lessie (Norris) Armstead for Barabas Simmons," Maskunas said. "We haven't been able to develop any additional witnesses or any additional information that would confirm that is in fact the case."

Until now. "Cause he was in the pen that's how it went down that he was supposed to done it, but to me I don't believe that," Harris said. "I never believed it for a day."

For the first time Harris is speaking out with new information that could turn this investigation upside down. "My theory is that he was just killed over ten bucks," Harris said.

Armstead worked at a lumber mill for several years. KTRE spoke to Kevin Fry who was Armstead's boss at the time. He recalls Armstead telling someone he would be paid by Friday. Armstead never lived to see pay day.

Harris lived nearby. He recalls seeing a car drive up the dimly lit street about the time gunshots were fired.

"I peeped out my window, it was so bright," Harris said. "It was just like someone was shining a light dead in your face, 'cause the traffic was pointed towards my house, the headlight was pointed towards my house."

The murder weapon and bullet were never recovered. It appeared Armestead had been shot at close range in the head with a handgun. "A few minutes later a car drove up and said somebody had been shot, so I went outside," Harris said.

His son, Anthony Armstead, was 17 at the time of his father's death.

"I loved him and he loved me too," Armstead said. "He was just at the place at the wrong time."

Harris' new information has given police a reason to reopen this cold case. This week, they plan to question people about information only eye witnesses would know.

Of course we'll continue to follow this story as new developments occur. In the meantime, police encourage anyone with information that might help them put this case to rest to contact them at 936-594-2505.

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