New details have emerged following the capture of Kaitlin Armstrong, who is now formally charged with first-degree murder in the death of cyclist Moriah Wilson. Deputy U.S. Marshal Brandon Filla said that Armstrong used multiple aliases while on the run but confessed to her true identity, partly due to exhaustion, after a 43-day fugitive hunt ended when she was captured and arrested by foreign officials in Costa Rica.
"I'd say she was exhausted. You could tell eventually when she was encountered by uniformed officers in Costa Rica. She didn't give her true identity at first, but when she was taken into custody and questioned, you know, minutes later, she finally confessed to her true identity," Filla said in a press conference on Thursday at the United States Federal Courthouse in Austin.
"So, I think that was her beginning to come forward. But, it took a little bit of time for her to reveal her true identity."
Armstrong is held at the Travis County Jail with a bond set at $3.5 million. She faces charges of first-degree murder and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution in connection with Wilson's death, as well as an unrelated theft of services misdemeanour.
Her initial court appearance is scheduled for July 20.
Wilson was killed in a shooting at a home in East Austin on May 11 in a case currently under investigation by the City of Austin Police Department (APD). The APD issued an arrest warrant for Armstrong in connection to the homicide investigation on May 17. However, authorities later learned through the assistance of the U.S. Marshals Lone Star Fugitive Task Force, that she had sold her black Jeep for $12,200 on May 13 and then departed Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on May 14. She then connected through Houston Hobby Airport to LaGuardia Airport in New York.
Authorities said that Armstrong fraudulently used another person's passport to flee the US from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey to San Jose, Costa Rica, on May 18, a day after the APD obtained a warrant for her arrest in connection to the homicide investigation.
Filla noted in the press conference that the passport belonged to "someone that was closely associated with her."
The U.S. Marshals confirmed that after a 43-day fugitive hunt, they located and apprehended Armstrong on June 29 at a hostel on Santa Teresa Beach in Provincia de Puntarenas, Costa Rica.
Filla stated that authorities drove her from the Santa Teresa Beach location, six hours back to San Jose, where Armstrong was detained on an immigration violation. She was then deported back to the US on July 2, where she was received by the Gulf Coast Violent Offenders Task Force at George Bush Intercontinental Houston Airport. She was initially detained at Harris County Jail in Houston.
On July 5, the APD extradited Armstrong from the Harris County Jail to the Travis County Jail in Austin, where she was formally charged with first-degree murder felony charges in connection to the death of Wilson.
"We also want to remember the victim in this case and hope this is the beginning stage of closure for the Wilson family," Filla said.
After Armstrong's arrest, Wilson's family released a statement, saying, "We are relieved that this phase of uncertainty is behind us, and we trust that justice will prevail."
Old-fashioned police work
In their search for Armstrong, Filla noted that the US Marshal Service deployed two Marshals to the US Embassy in Costa Rica to assist the Department of State and foreign officials with intelligence on the possible whereabouts of Armstrong.
"Based upon what we know, she was very into the yoga community. That was her practice. And then, when we were able to establish communication with the foreign officials in Costa Rica, they had context in their local communities and knew the area much better than anyone else. And they were doing old-fashioned police work, where we concentrated on where she took a bus from the coast from the San Jose airport in Costa Rica, two hours away. They knew that bus' route, so that's where they started with boots on the ground. And I'm telling you the old-fashioned police work; they started the trail of narrowing down a path on Kaitlin Armstrong," Filla said.
During that search, investigators learned that Armstrong travelled under different aliases to multiple destinations, including San Jose, where she first landed at the airport. She also went to Jaco beach and Santa Teresa beach, where officials apprehended her at Don Jon's Lodge hostel.
"It was discovered that Armstrong used different names, aliases, and went under the alias of Beth Martin and Liz Martin and Ari Martin, who she advised uniformed officials at Don Jon's hostel in Costa Rica. Armstrong used these names at yoga studios and other lodgings since her arrival in Costa Rica on May 18," Filla said.
"Officials involved in the investigation conducted old-fashioned law enforcement techniques, went door to door, conducted multiple interviews, went from yoga establishment to other yoga establishments and made contact with lodging venues that she had left behind. This paved the way to where Armstrong was detained by authorities at the Don Jon's hostel located in Santa Teresa beach in Costa Rica."
Filla confirmed that two passports were found after her arrest in a locker at the hostel. A witness stated in an Inside Edition report that one belonged to Armstrong and the other to a family member.
Filla did not comment on the name of the person who owned the passport due to the ongoing investigation. However, he confirmed authorities are investigating how Armstrong obtained the passport. Filla said the passports are now in the authorities' possession as evidence in the homicide and fugitive investigations.
"That's currently an active investigation right now. And we have forwarded that information to the United States Attorney's office in Austin and also in New Jersey," he said.
A $6,350 receipt for cosmetic surgery was also found in the locker under another name. However, Filla could not confirm that this was cosmetic surgery undergone by Armstrong because it was under a different name. He confirmed that she changed her physical appearance by cutting and colouring her hair dark brown, and that she had a bandage on her nose.
"At the time that foreign officials arrested and detained Kaitlin Armstrong, they believed that she didn't have a key to a locker box where she had her belongings and the owner at the time was not there to be able to unlock that lockbox. So, she was taken into custody and transported away from the area. Later on, I believe a news affiliate [Inside Edition] got in contact with the owner of that hostel, and that's when he was able to voluntarily recover those documents of the passports. The receipt was, as you know, posted by a media outlet as far as plastic surgery. All those documents were handed over to authorities and are now in evidence," Filla said.
Stan Seto, Homeland Security Investigations Assistant Special Agent, congratulated the APD and U.S. Marshals services for leading the 43-day fugitive hunt to apprehend Armstrong.
"I just wanted to have a chance to speak and recognize the tenacity of the US Marshal Service and its task force members and apprehending this international fugitive. Our agency's sole responsibility as a law enforcement partner is to combat transnational crime in the United States and abroad. So I'm very thankful that we had a few of our agents stationed abroad in Costa Rica to assist the [U.S.] Marshals' efforts to locate and rundown leads in Costa Rica," Seto said.
"I mean, this successful operation sends a clear message to criminals that nowhere no matter where crime is committed, no matter where you flee, you're not beyond the reach of the law. We'll utilize every resource partnership to make sure that you come to justice."
Cyclingnews has pieced together a timeline of how authorities believe this crime allegedly unfolded, based on legal documents. Cyclingnews will provide additional updates as more information becomes available from authorities throughout this investigation.
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