The murder trial for Kaitlin Armstrong got underway Wednesday, about 18 months after she was accused of killing professional cyclist Anna Moriah "Mo" Wilson in Austin in May 2022. The case garnered national attention after authorities said Armstrong left the country with a fraudulent passport and was arrested in Costa Rica more than 40 days later. Authorities announced last year that they suspected Armstrong had fatally shot Wilson, 25, over a love triangle with another pro cyclist. Armstrong, 35, has pleaded not guilty to murder and faces up to 99 years in prison if she is convicted.
Here's what to know about the murder trial.
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Wilson, a Vermont native who was a competitive gravel and mountain bike racer, was pronounced dead at 10:10 p.m. May 11, 2022. Wilson had been shot in the head and chest at a friend's home in East Austin before a race that she was among the favorites to win.
In fall 2021, Wilson was romantically involved with Colin Strickland, an Austin-based pro cyclist whose three-year relationship had ended with Armstrong, a yoga teacher and real estate agent, according to a police affidavit. But when the fling with Wilson fizzled out, Strickland rekindled his relationship with Armstrong. Police say Wilson had been hanging out with Strickland - and they suspect Armstrong shot Wilson after Strickland dropped off Wilson at her friend's place.
Prosecutors say Armstrong was able to track Wilson's movements on the exercise app Strava, and then shot Wilson three times, including once through the heart. Prosecutors say that the casings from the gunshots match Armstrong's 9mm Sig Sauer handgun and that her vehicle appears to match the SUV seen on security footage, but defense attorney Geoffrey Puryear has argued that no video evidence or witnesses can put Armstrong at the scene of the shooting.
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On the day Wilson was killed, Armstrong and Strickland swam at a local pool before having dinner together, according to a police affidavit. Strickland, who was quickly cleared by investigators of any potential wrongdoing, had lied to Armstrong about his whereabouts the night he hung out with Wilson, the affidavit says.
"There is no way to adequately express the regret and torture I feel about my proximity to this horrible crime," Strickland said after the shooting in a statement to the Austin American-Statesman. "I am sorry, and I simply cannot make sense of this unfathomable tragedy."
Prosecutors say Armstrong had access to Strickland's messages on a laptop at their shared home in Austin, and she could have figured out where Wilson was staying based on a bike ride earlier in the day that was posted to Strava. Puryear said Wednesday that Armstrong is "trapped in a nightmare of circumstantial evidence," according to KVUE, an ABC affiliate in Austin.
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Police had brought Armstrong in on an unrelated warrant and questioned her about Wilson's death the day after the shooting. Even though she could not explain why her vehicle was in the area at the time of the slaying, Armstrong was released from police custody because of a technical error. Days after tipsters came forward with more evidence linking her to the killing, police issued a warrant charging Armstrong with first-degree murder.
But by that time, Armstrong had sold her vehicle for about $12,000 and left the country. Her disappearance sparked a search that went on for more than 40 days. Then, on June 29, 2022, she was captured in a Costa Rican hostel, according to the U.S. Marshals Service. Authorities say she used her sister's name, email, credit card and passport to enter Costa Rica, where prosecutors allege Armstrong spent nearly $6,500 for surgery to change her appearance, used several aliases to try to establish herself as a yoga instructor, and cut and darkened her hair. In addition to facing the murder charge, she also faces a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
The shooting rocked the cycling community, and the cycling magazine VeloNews described Wilson as "the winningest woman in the American off-road scene." Amy Charity, a fellow cyclist, told the New Yorker that Wilson's death was "the most tragic and shocking thing that's ever happened" in the cycling community.
The start of Armstrong's murder trial comes three weeks after she attempted to escape custody as officers escorted her to a medical appointment outside of the jail, Travis County sheriff's officials said; she made it about a block and a half before she was restrained. Armstrong faces an additional felony escape charge punishable by up to 20 years in prison if she's convicted.
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The murder trial in Austin is expected to last about two weeks. Judge Brenda Kennedy, who is presiding over the trial, is allowing cameras in the courtroom at the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center to film opening statements, closing arguments and the verdict, but not witness testimony, according to KXAN, an NBC affiliate in Austin.
During that time, prosecutors said the jury will hear Wilson's final screams and the shots that killed her. Nearby surveillance equipment captured the shooting.
"The last thing Mo did on this earth was scream in terror," Travis County prosecutor Rickey Jones told jurors during opening statements on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. "You'll hear those screams."
Jones said that seconds after screams and two gunshots are heard on the video, "Kaitlin Armstrong stood over Mo Wilson and put a third shot right into Mo Wilson's heart."
Puryear, the defense attorney, is expected to argue how police had tunnel vision in their pursuit of Armstrong, and that authorities were focused on keeping her in their "crosshairs." He reiterated to the jury that the case against Armstrong lacks video evidence or witnesses.
"You didn't hear [from the prosecution] that not one witness saw Kaitlin Armstrong allegedly commit this murder. Not one," Puryear said, according to the AP. "Because there isn't one."
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María Luisa Paúl, Lateshia Beachum and James Bikales contributed to this report.