Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Kelley decided a few weeks ago to move the trial 325 miles northwest to Marietta because of the extensive pre-trial publicity about the slaying.
It is set to begin Monday and Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson and her staff will prosecute the case before Kelley, although the jury will be drawn from Cobb.
The trial, including jury selection, is expected to last one to two weeks and the jury is not expected to be sequestered, said Kim Isaza, spokeswoman for the Cobb District Attorney’s Office.
Costs of the trial will be billed back to Glynn County.
Two on trial
De’Marquise Kareem Elkins, 18, was arrested March 22 on charges of murder, cruelty to children, aggravated assault, attempted armed robbery and possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime and has remained in the Glynn County Jail in Brunswick since then.
He is accused of fatally shooting 13-month-old Antonio Santiago in the face as the little boy sat in his stroller on a Brunswick sidewalk on March 21.
It was a case that enraged the nation as word of its brutality quickly spread across cable TV news stations and the Internet.
Elkins is also accused of shooting the baby’s mother, Sherry West, in the leg during the course of a robbery attempt.
He is not eligible for the death penalty because he was not 18 at the time of the incident, but if convicted, the teenager could be sentenced to a life in prison without parole.
Elkins’ mother, 36-year-old Karimah Aisha Elkins, will be tried in Cobb County as well. She was arrested March 27 and charged with tampering with evidence, possession of a weapon by a felon and a probation violation.
This charge carries a one-to-10-year sentence if she is found guilty.
Karimah Elkins is accused of trying to get rid of the .22 caliber revolver allegedly used by De’Marquise Elkins in the shooting.
Others were arrested in connection with the incident but they will all be tried in Glynn County.
Dominique Lang, 15, was charged with murder, cruelty to children, attempted armed robbery and aggravated assault. Police say he was with De’Marquise Elkins when Elkins allegedly shot the toddler.
Elkins’ sister, Sabrina Elkins, 19, and his aunt, Katrina Elkins, were charged with trying to cover up De’Marquise Elkins’ alleged role in the crime.
The mother and aunt are also accused of giving police a false alibi in regard to De’Marquise Elkins’ whereabouts on the day of the shooting.
Change of venue’trials uncommon
Cobb County Superior Court Administrator Tom Charron, who worked as Cobb’s district attorney for about 20 years before accepting this role, is familiar with “change of venue” trials but said they are uncommon.
“It seemed like I got more change of venues than anybody else when I was DA,” he said last week. “I was probably involved in about six of them.”
The most familiar change of venue trial Charron worked on was the case of Fred Tokars. It was moved in 1997 to Walker County, just south of the Georgia-Tennessee line, and it lasted nearly 60 days. Tokars was convicted of hiring someone to kill his wife, Sara Tokars, in 1992.
Like the trial for the Elkins mother and son, Fred Tokars’ case was moved because of media attention.
Charron said this is the most common reason to move a trial location.
“That makes it difficult to seat a jury that hasn’t already formed a conviction of guilty,” Charron said.
Trials have also been moved in the past because they involve a public official or person who’s well-known in a particular area.
“It’s always within the discretion of the trial court and almost always as a result of a motion by the defense, which basically files a motion,” he said.
Seeking justice out of town
Cobb County Superior Court Judge Jim Bodiford said he’s personally presided over three change of venue trials, including the Tokars case almost 20 years ago.
“I don’t think anybody likes to change venues, but there are certain cases, thankfully few and far between, that you must move,” he said. “It makes trying a very important case like this harder.
“It’s definitely very uncommon and it makes it that much tougher, but Judge Kelley is very well qualified to do it so I think the parties are in good hands with him.”
He said the challenge for the Glynn County prosecutor and the defense attorneys will be tackling all the aspects of this murder trial in a whole new environment.
“Thinking about just the logistics, everybody involved in that case, whether they are a witness, lawyer or staff members, they will have to relocate,” he said. “And that’s what we did in the Tokars case. … Not only did the lawyers have to relocate but the judge’s staff relocated for 59 nights. It’s like going on an out of town business trip but with justice as a goal.”