Prosecutors began making their case Tuesday that the teenager shot the 13-month-old baby execution style in a coastal Georgia town about 325 miles from Marietta.
Jurors and spectators gasped and wiped tears from their eyes when Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson began her arguments by showing photographs of the body of little Antonio Santiago lying on a blood-soaked blanket on an ambulance stretcher with a gunshot wound to his face.
Antonio was killed in Brunswick on March 21 while returning home from the post office with his mother, Sherry West, on a quiet oak tree-lined street in the historic section regarded as one of the coastal city’s more affluent neighborhoods. West was shot in the leg during the incident prosecutors allege was part of a robbery attempt.
Defense: Jury lacks minorities
The case began Monday when prosecution and defense attorneys spent the day questioning potential jurors. Tuesday saw the trial’s opening arguments and statements in the trial that was moved to Cobb County because of concern about media coverage and a racial divide in Brunswick.
The trial is expected to last into the beginning of next week.
Twelve Cobb residents were chosen for the jury and handed the task of deciding Elkins’ fate. All 12 are white, which did not sit well with the defense.
Kevin Gough, De’Marquise Elkins’ court-appointed defense attorney, urged Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Kelley to reset the jury pool, but the judge found no reason to believe jury selection, chosen randomly by a computer, purposely excluded minorities.
Witnesses describe the scene
Johnson told the jury De’Marquise Elkins shot Antonio and his mother just 10 days after he allegedly shot in the arm a Hispanic minister who refused to turn over his wallet and cell phone.
De’Marquise Elkins has pleaded not guilty to murder, cruelty to children, aggravated assault, attempted armed robbery and possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime.
His co-defendant is Dominique Lang, 15, who is also charged with murder and will be tried separately in Glynn County. Lang is expected to testify against Elkins as the state’s star witness.
“The young man with the gun took the gun and aimed it at Antonio’s head and struck him right between the eyes,” Johnson said of De’Marquise Elkins.
A Brunswick EMT and a Brunswick criminal investigator testified about what they saw at the scene of the shooting.
Raymond Melbin, who was working with the Glynn County Fire Department, said he was sent home early the day of the shooting after performing CPR to no avail.
“They decided my partner and myself would not be mentally fit to handle the rest of my shift,” Melbin said. Defense attorneys objected to that statement and the judge asked jurors to ignore it.
Angela Smith, a Brunswick police criminal investigator, said when she arrived at the shooting she found a frantic mother who did not yet know she had also been shot.
“(West) was crying hysterically saying, ‘Save my baby. Don’t let my baby die,’” Smith said.
Smith said both West and Louis Santiago, the father of Antonio who is not married to West, tested positive for gunshot residue on their hands.
A gunshot residue test can be positive if someone has been near the firing of a gun, Smith said, and Santiago touched West’s hand.
“He grabbed her hand prior to the gunshot residue testing,” Smith said. “I actually had to ask him to let go of her hand.”
Defense attempts to raise doubt
Jurors will have to decide if the .22 caliber revolver police found in a saltwater pond is the murder weapon.
Gough says there is no evidence linking the bullet found in West’s leg and Antonio’s face to the gun found.
“There’s no proof that a bullet was fired from that gun,” he said. “There’s no proof that it’s even the same type of gun. ... There are hundreds of thousands of weapons that could’ve fired those rounds.”
He also told the jury during his opening statement Tuesday that police did not conduct a thorough investigation and got “tunnel vision” after zeroing in on De’Marquise Elkins.
A Brunswick investigator linked the shooting of the minister to the murder of Antonio, Gough said, while police were facing pressure to close the case before the arrival of tourist season.
Gough called into question West’s credibility saying she acted irrationally.
“Mrs. West began acting irrationally,” Gough said. “She talks to herself while the investigator is out of the room. She curses to herself while the investigator is out of the room.”
Lang, the then 14-year-old boy who allegedly served as Elkins’ accomplice, also presents problems, he said, because a police officer told him during an interview that “nine out of 10 things that come out of your mouth are freaking lies.”
“That arrest (of Elkins) was made by and large on the word of Dominique Lang,” Gough said.
Mother also charged
Karimah Elkins, the suspect’s mother, sat near her son in the courtroom also awaiting a verdict of her own.
She is charged with evidence tampering and making false statements. Karimah Elkins allegedly got rid of the gun her son used to shoot West and Antonio and allegedly gave police a false alibi about De’Marquise Elkins’ whereabouts during the shooting.
“Whatever the reasons, however it happened, it has absolutely nothing to do with my client Karimah Elkins,” said Wrix McIlvaine, her attorney. “What I want to find out during this trial is why is my client even here?“
McIlvaine said police arrested the entire family, including Sabrina, his sister and Katrina Elkins, his aunt, in connection with the crime.
McIlvaine maintains her rights were violated during a police search of her home that turned up, he says, no evidence.
Karimah Elkins does not have custody of her son and he did not live with her at the time of the murder.