MARIETTA, Ga. — A defense attorney for a man accused of fatally shooting a baby in coastal Georgia suggested Thursday that the baby’s father was a half-block away at the time of the slaying – a line of questioning he did not explain, though he has previously attempted to implicate the baby’s parents in the death.
Kevin Gough, a public defender and lead attorney for De’Marquise Elkins, called the father to the stand as one of his final witnesses. Elkins is charged with murder in the March 21 killing of 13-month old Antonio Santiago in Brunswick.
His mother, Karimah Elkins, is on trial alongside him on charges of evidence tampering and lying to police.
Defense attorneys finished presenting testimony and evidence Thursday, a day after the prosecution rested its case.
Closing arguments are scheduled for this morning and then the jury will begin its deliberations.
The father, Louis Santiago, testified that on the morning of the shooting, he had breakfast with neighbors, whom he identified only as Karen and William. He said they left their apartment building about 9:10 a.m.
Gough remarked that if Santiago was at his apartment building at that hour, he would have been only a half-block away when the baby was shot.
Gough asked Santiago if he had any reason to testify in a way that is favorable to the state’s case. When Santiago said he didn’t, Gough asked whether he had any pending criminal charges brought by the district attorney’s office. Santiago testified that he has a pending charge for aggravated stalking.
Gough strongly suggested in pretrial motions that the real killers are the child’s own parents. He has made several suggestions to the same effect during the trial. But much of his questioning that seemed to be heading in that direction – including attempts to bring up details about the backgrounds of both of the baby’s parents – has been blocked by the judge.
Santiago testified that on the morning of the shooting he, Karen, and William left their apartment building to drop William off at his job at T.J. Maxx. Santiago said he picked out juices and snacks for his young son. When the pair was at the checkout, Santiago got a call from a detective telling him his son had been shot, he testified. He and Karen ran out of the store without the groceries and drove to the hospital, he said.
Prosecutors say Elkins and an accomplice, 15-year-old Dominique Lang, stopped Sherry West as she walked home from the post office and demanded money. When she refused to hand over her purse, the older teen shot her in the leg and then shot the baby.
The killing in the port city of Brunswick drew national attention, and the trial was moved to because of extensive publicity.
Elkins faces life in prison if convicted of murder. At the time of the shooting he was 17, too young to face the death penalty if convicted under Georgia law. Lang, who also faces murder charges, is to be tried at a later date.
Prosecutors have said information from Elkins’ mother and sister led investigators to a pond where they found a revolver. Karimah Elkins is standing trial alongside her son on charges of evidence tampering and lying to police. Elkins’ sister also was charged with evidence tampering.
Prosecutors also have accused De’Marquise Elkins of shooting a pastor during an attempted robbery outside a church in Brunswick 10 days before the baby was killed.
An expert on eyewitness identification testified earlier Thursday that the photo lineups of suspects in both the pastor’s shooting and the baby’s slaying were suggestive.
Georgia State University cognitive psychology professor Heather Kleider said the photo lineup shown to West was suggestive because the men in the photos had distinctly different physical characteristics and not all of them matched a description of the shooter given by West. She said the lineups given to the pastor and another man had similar problems.
The defense also called a string of witnesses whose testimony seemed intended to cast doubt on prosecution witness testimony, and to question the thoroughness of the investigation into the baby’s killing.
One was Argie Brooks, a man who approached police Capt. Wan Thorpe the day of the shooting saying he had information about the killing. Brooks told Thorpe he lived with the aunt of the boy who shot the baby and that he needed money to buy crack cocaine to get the aunt high, Thorpe testified.
Thorpe declined to give Brooks money for crack but told him about reward money available in the case, Thorpe said. Brooks asked for a computer to identify the shooter and when Thorpe brought him one, he pulled up a mug shot of someone named Dominique Elkins, Thorpe said. When told that Dominique Elkins was in jail at the time, Brooks said he knew it was someone named Elkins and told Thorpe that if he had money to buy crack for the aunt he could “get old girl loose” and get more information, Thorpe testified.
The woman Brooks was living with was Debra Obey, who is the aunt of Dominique Lang, De’Marquise Elkins’ co-defendant.
Brooks testified that he got $2,000 from police for information he provided and had a written agreement signed by the police chief and someone else that said he’d get an additional $8,000 if Elkins was convicted. Gough told the judge it was important to hear from Brooks because he was a witness paid by the state.