ELKINS FOUND GUILTY
By MICHAEL HALL
The Brunswick News
MARIETTA – De’Marquise Elkins was found guilty Friday afternoon of murdering 13-month-old Antonio Santiago as he sat in a stroller March 21 on a Brunswick street.
The Cobb County jury found Elkins, 18, guilty on all counts in the attack, including cruelty to children, aggravated assault for wounding Antonio’s mother, Sherry West, and attempted robbery, for attempting to rob her at the intersection of London and Ellis streets, Brunswick.
He could be sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors could not seek a death penalty because he was 17 years old at the time of the attack.
His mother, Karimah Elkins, 36, was found guilty of evidence tampering for disposing of the gun he used in the attack but not guilty of making false statements for giving police a false alibi for his whereabouts at the time he fatally shot Antonio.
Friday morning, lawyers for De’Marquise Elkins claimed in closing arguments that police built their case against him on a cracked foundation by ignoring bizarre statements by witnesses and failing to look into other plausible suspects.
But prosecutors countered that Elkins preys on the weak and there is evidence to show that from foundation to roof, police arrested the right person.
Lawyers made their closing arguments to the jury Friday morning in a Cobb County courtroom after nearly two weeks of testimony in the murder trial of Elkins, 18.
Assistant Public Defender Jonathan Lockwood said police were led to Elkins by drug addicts and admitted liars who wanted to divert blame from their family member, Dominique Lang, 15, who is also charged with murder, cruelty to children, aggravated assault and attempted armed robbery for his alleged role in the crime. Lang will be tried in Glynn County because he testified against Elkins in a trial that had to be moved 325 miles away to increase the likelihood of impaneling an impartial jury.
“In this case, the state and the government and the police were not professional in the way they handled their investigation,” Lockwood told the jury. “The foundation of their case in West, Lang and (Argie) Brooks is broken.”
Lockwood meticulously made the case that Brooks led police to Lang’s aunt, Debra Obley, only to collect reward money.
He pointed out lies Lang told police during interviews, lies told by his cousin, Joe Lang, who the defense said should have been a suspect in the case, and criminal records and drug habits of Brooks and Obley as evidence they are untrustworthy.
They are the type of people someone would not want to leave alone with their wallet or purse in a room, Lockwood said.
Using the information provided by them, police put blinders on when investigating Elkins and only looked at evidence that played into that theory, Lockwood said.
That is why he said police used suggestive photo identification line ups when asking several witnesses to point out Elkins, he said.
Lockwood reminded the jury about testimony from cognitive psychologist Heather Kleider who said witnesses by nature want to be helpful.
“Your memory changes over time,” Lockwood added as he paced in front of the jury. “Once a person believes in their identification, they become more and more certain of it.”
He said police used photo line ups in which Elkins stood out from the other five people displayed.
Lockwood also pointed out bizarre statement made by West after the murder and the rocky past of Antonio’s father, Louis Santiago, that were not investigated by police.
“They didn’t want to look at that because they didn’t want to look at anything that was not De’Marquise Elkins,” Lockwood said. “What they do have is the dead baby … It is gut wrenching … As jurors in this case, you have an unsavory duty. You have to look past the dead baby and look at the facts of the case.”
Those facts, according to Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson, point only to Elkins as the murderer and a person who seeks weak people upon whom to prey.
She showed numerous photos taken from surveillance cameras the morning of the murder that suggest Elkins fit West’s description of her attackers and that fit her story, as well as Lang’s.
“Video can’t conspire to make up stories,” Johnson said. “Surely these aren’t cracks in the foundation.”
She proceeded to walk jurors through Elkins’ activities on March 21, bolstering her story with photos and testimony from witnesses the past two weeks.
“We don’t have an actual video of the shooting of Antonio Santiago, but this is as close as it gets,” Johnson said.
She admitted the scientific evidence does not rule out that a different .22 caliber gun may have been used during the shooting, but pointed to other photographic and testimonial evidence that Johnson said proves Elkins hid the weapon and that his mother Karimah Elkins, 36, and sister, Sabrina Elkins, 19, disposed of it. Karimah Elkins was also on trial for evidence tampering and making false statements to police.
“We can’t definitely, by science, say it’s the gun, but the facts and circumstances in the case say it is. That’s the one in a million gun,” Johnson said in response to the defense’s assertion that there are more than a million guns that could have been used in the crime.
She also conceded that the witnesses in this case were not all good people, but that does not mean they are lying about what they saw. Johnson pointed to West’s bizarre behavior after the murder to make her point.
“Does anyone know the protocol about how you’re supposed to act when you just watched your baby get shot,” Johnson said.
She then turned her sights on Elkins.
“If there is anything to me that sticks out about this case, it’s preying on the weak,” Johnson said. “You can’t get any more weak than a baby asleep in a stroller.”
She added that a separate attempted armed robbery and aggravated assault for which Elkins is charged in allegedly shooting pastor Wilfredo Calix-Flores March 11 is in the 1700 block of Norwich Street, Brunswick, is an example of Elkins targeting Hispanics who may not speak English and may not be citizens.
To close, she showed a picture of Antonio sitting in a baby seat at Christmas time.
“This is the healthy, happy baby Antonio,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what kind of person he would have turned out to be, nobody knows … He had a life … He might have been mentally ill, like his mother. He might have been out of work, like his father. He might have been the next Stephen Hawking.”
Prior to both Lockwood’s and Johnson’s closing arguments, Wrix McIlvaine, lawyer for Karimah Elkins, closed his case, as well.
“What proof do we have that the gun she got rid of was the murder weapon? Zero,” McIlvaine said.
He also said Karimah Elkins had no knowledge of the murder when she made statements to police and, therefore, could not have made false statements.