No one from 13-month-old Antonio Santiago’s family was present Friday when a Cobb County jury pronounced a Brunswick teenager guilty of shooting the toddler between the eyes in a botched robbery attempt that shocked the country.
No friends or family showed up Friday to support defendant De’Marquise Elkins, either, save for his pastor. Elkins’ mother was there, charged with tampering with evidence after the killing.
De’Marquise Elkins, 17 at the time of the March 21 shooting, was found guilty on all 11 counts against him, including felony murder and malice murder. His mother, Karimah Elkins, was found guilty on the tampering charge, but was acquitted on the charge of lying to police. They will be sentenced in Glynn County, and De’Marquise’s attorney expects his client — spared the death penalty because of his age — to be sentenced to “life plus.”
“He may well die in prison,” said Brunswick Judicial Circuit public defender Kevin Gough.
The trial was moved to Cobb County due to the extensive publicity generated by shooting. People in the coastal Georgia town remain divided by the case, mainly along racial lines. Those tensions were exacerbated when an all-white, suburban Atlanta jury was selected to decide the fate of a young African-American man born to a teen mom and raised primarily by his grandmother.
“Black people say those boys didn’t do it. White people say, ‘let’s lynch them,’ ” said De’Marquise’s pastor, the Rev. Kenneth Adkins, who drove to Marietta to witness the verdict. Adkins acknowledged the evidence “suggests he is guilty.”
But for Adkins, race was but a subplot to some hard truths exposed during the trial.
“This courtroom should’ve been filled with people wondering, ‘Where did we go wrong?’” he said. “I’m not saying these kids have no responsibility, but obviously there is terrible dysfunction going on in all these families, black, white and Latino.”
The baby’s father is in jail for stalking West. Antonio’s half-sister, who testified at the trial, is also in jail. West’s other son was stabbed to death five years ago.
Elkins’ accomplice, Dominique Lang, is still awaiting trial. He was just 14 a the time of the shooting, and he could pass for younger.
Lang lived with his grandmother until his arrest. His father was killed by a ricocheting bullet outside a Brunswick nightclub when he was just 9 years old.
The baby-faced teen was key in building the state’s case against Elkins, now 18. The defense argued that case was made up of a “liar,” “a crackhead” and a mother who behaved in “a rather bizarre way” after her baby was shot.
“They didn’t care what sort of witnesses came forward,” defense co-counsel Jonathan Lockwood argued. “As long as they made a statement against De’Marquise Elkins, they could care less.”
Elkins was first identified as the shooter by Argie Brooks, who police said was “frothing at the mouth” and asked for money when he approached officers with information. Brooks, who lived with Lang’s aunt at the time, received $1,000.
“You don’t pay $1,000 for bad information,” Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson told jurors.
A statement from Lang, who admitted during testimony last week that he told more than a dozen lies to investigators, followed. West initially identified Lang from a series of photographs of truants from Glynn County schools, according to the defense — a claim disputed by Johnson in her closing.
“What the lawyers say (is) not evidence,” she said. “What the witnesses on the stand say is.”
Gough said after the verdict he plans to appeal on grounds he was prohibited from admitting “crucial evidence” by Brunswick Circuit Judge Stephen D. Kelley.
But he’ll have a some major obstacles to overcome. Surveillance footage showed De’Marquise Elkans wearing a chain necklace similar to one Antonio’s mother said was worn worn by the shooter. When Elkins was arrested, two bullets of the same caliber as the gun used to kill the toddler were found in his pocket.
A distant cousin testified he asked her to hide the gun. Her father said when he found the weapon, there were live rounds inside, which he removed before Karimah Elkins came to retrieve it.
Distrust of the police remains in Brunswick, Adkins said. The defense’s claim that police rushed to judgement and then molded evidence to fit their narrative struck a chord in the city’s African-American community, he said.
“No one took the time to look at anyone else,” he said of police. “And there were a lot of people who needed to be looked at.”
But that’s not what concerned Adkins most as he awaited for the verdict Friday.
“There are a bunch more Dominiques and De’Marquise’s out there,” Adkins said. “These are kids with no guidance. They may seem young to people, but when you work with at-risk kids you know if you haven’t reached them by 13 or 14, you’re probably too late.”