Local News


Defense shifts blame from Elkins

By MICHAEL HALL The Brunswick News

MARIETTA - After weeks of a pre-trial defense strategy to shift suspicion from the teenager accused of fatally shooting 13-month-old Antonio Santiago onto the infant's parents, the best Public Defender Kevin Gough could do Thursday was to get the child's father to admit he was a half block away when his son was murdered.

Gough previously failed during the trial to introduce his suggestion that Sherry West killed her son on a Brunswick street March 21. Brunswick Judicial Circuit Judge Stephen Kelly had admonished him to limit his questions to West to ones that pertained only to the guilt or innocence of De'Marquise Elkins, who is accused of the attack.

On the final day of witness testimony Thursday, before lawyers' closing arguments to the jury, which are expected to begin today, Gough questioned Louis Santiago, Antonio's father. At times, Gough and Assistant District Attorney Andrew Ekonomou argued sharply over the suitability of some of Gough's questions.

Santiago testified during redirect examination by Gough - after prosecutors had cross-examined Santiago, whom Gough had called as a witness - that he left his apartment in the 900 block of Union Street in Brunswick at 9:10 a.m. March 21. Prosecutors say Elkins attempted to rob West and wounded her and fatally shot Antonio at about 9:15 a.m.

Santiago said during cross-examination by Ekonomou that he left his apartment with neighbors to go to Walmart at about 9:10 a.m. to buy juice and other items for Antonio.

"Then, all of the sudden, a phone call came from one of our neighbors," Santiago said of a call the neighbor he was with received. The caller said a woman had been shot nearby and that it may have been West.

Later, while at Walmart, Santiago said he got a phone call from police telling him what had happened.

Gough keyed in on that during his redirect questioning and got Santiago, who lives separately from West, to admit he was nearby when West and his son were shot.

Gough had suggested in pre-trial motions that West or Santiago, or both, had killed their son, based on the presence of gunshot residue on each of them. Santiago had testified at a pretrial hearing in Glynn County that he had touched West's wound while she was being treated at the Brunswick hospital of Southeast Georgia Health System.

Gough had also suggested that West had a motive to kill her son, based upon a question she purportedly asked her estranged daughter in a telephone call about how long it would take to receive a settlement on a $5,000 infant's life insurance policy she had for Antonio.

After riveting Glynn County since March 21 - Kelley moved the trial 325 miles away because awareness of the crime would make it difficult to seat an impartial jury at Brunswick - the defense rested at about 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

After closing arguments today, Kelley will give jurors instructions on the legal rules they must follow to reach a verdict, and deliberations will begin.

The trial began Aug. 19 with jury selection, and the prosecution began presenting its case Aug. 20, with testimony from medical examiners, police officers, ballistics experts and two eyewitnesses - Elkins' co-defendant, Dominique Lang, who will be tried in Glynn County, and West.

The defense took over Tuesday, calling only a handful of peripheral witnesses. None was an eyewitness. Elkins did not testify in his own defense.

He is facing charges of murder, cruelty to children, aggravated assault and attempted armed robbery for his alleged involvement in the attack near the intersection of Ellis and London streets in the Old Town neighborhood of Brunswick. He is also charged with aggravated assault and attempted armed robbery for his alleged involvement in the robbery and shooting March 11 in the 1700 block of Norwich Street, Brunswick, that left pastor Wilfredo Calix-Flores with a gunshot wound to his left arm.

Elkins, 18, could be sentenced to life in prison if he is convicted of murdering Antonio. Prosecutors could not seek a death penalty because he was 17 years old at the time of the murder.

The defense of Elkins' mother, Karimah Elkins, 36, also rested Thursday. She is charged with making false statements and tampering with evidence for allegedly giving a false alibi for her son's whereabouts at the time of the murder and for allegedly disposing of the .22 caliber revolver police say was used in the crime.

Thursday morning, a Brunswick man who stands to receive $10,000 in reward money for providing information that led to the arrests of Elkins and Lang testified that he talked to police out of the goodness of his heart.

Argie Brooks, who is incarcerated in the Glynn County jail facing armed robbery charges, testified he has no deal with prosecutors to testify against Elkins.

Gough's questioning took on a hostile tone early and prompted Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson to object that Gough was improperly asking his own witness leading questions that would suggest the answers he wanted.

Gough fired back, saying that Brooks should have been a witness for the prosecution, but prosecutors were afraid of what he might say in court. He did not clarify what Brooks might say that would hurt the prosecution's case.

Although Gough contended that Brooks took $1,000 from the Brunswick Police Department and $1,000 from the Glynn County Police Department to share with his roommate, Debra Obley, Lang's aunt, Brooks maintained that he came forward as a concerned citizen after overhearing a conversation with Obley that he thought indicated Lang may have been involved.

"I was doing this from the heart," Brooks said.

Prior to Brooks' testimony, the defense called Heather Kleider, a cognitive psychologist at Georgia State University, who testified that the photo lineups police showed West and Calix-Flores, from which they identified Elkins were improperly suggestive.

"I would say it's suggestive, yes, in that not everybody is meeting that description," Kleider said of what she thought were significant dissimilarities among photos in the lineups.

* Reporter Michael Hall writes about public safety, environment and other local topics. Contact him at mhall@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 320.