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Defense: toddler's parents played role in death

5:55 AM, Aug 21, 2013   |    comments
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COBB COUNTY, Ga. -- The murder trial of a Brunswick teenager will enter the first full day of testimony Wednesday.

District Attorney Jackie Johnson is expected to call more witnesses to the stand as she lays out her cases against De'Marquise Elkins.

Elkins is charged with shooting and killing 13-month-old Antonio Santiago in his stroller.

Authorities contend it happened after Elkins and another teen, Dominique Lang, attempted to rob Santiago's mother, Sherry West, at gun point.

West, according to Johnson, was pushing her son in his stroller while walking home from the post office around 9:15 a.m. on March 21.

In court Tuesday, much of the day was spent on a second attempt by the defense to restart the jury selection process.

"If ever there was a case when a panel's composition violated a client's Constitutional rights, this would be that case," said Public Defender Kevin Gough.

Gough attempted to argue the jury pool of 48 was racially imbalanced toward his client, who is an African American.

Gough called mathematical expert Jeffrey Martin to testify that statistically there should have been more African Americans in the jury pool when considering the racial make up of Cobb County.

Martin said the county is 23% African American, yet only three African American women and no African American men made the jury pool.

Gough alluded to the issue stemming from Cobb County's use of a July 2012 jury list because the July 2013 list wasn't ready in time for summons in this case.

Martin said in his experience some jury lists in Georgia not only list people twice, but are also disproportionately white.

"Most of the lists throughout the state average 130%, meaning the list is bigger than the population. We looked at those duplicates. They were disproportionate to the population in terms of being white," Martin said.

Superior Court Judge Stephen Kelley ultimately sided with the state on the defense challenge.

Kelley said, "I find that the defendant has failed to demonstrate any flaw in the selection process used by Cobb County in this case."

And with that ruling, Kelley swore in 15 people attorneys chose from the jury pool.

Nine of them are men, six are women.

Only 12 will get to deliberate a verdict. The other three will only serve as alternates.

But of those 12, none of them are African American. The only two African Americans on the panel are alternates, and they are women.

Following the swearing in, Johnson and Assistant Public Defender Jonathan Lockwood addressed the newly seated jury for the first time with opening statements.

Johnson said Elkins was the gunman and that Lang was the unarmed accomplice.

She said West resisted handing over her purse before Elkins opened fire.

"When Sherry did not hand over her purse, the young man with the gun took the gun and aimed it at Antonio's head and shot him right between the eyes," she told the jury.

West was also hit in the leg and ear and had to go to the hospital, but her injuries were not life-threatening.

Johnson also tried to tie Elkins to a shooting and armed robbery attempt in Brunswick that happened 10 days before Santiago's death based on suspect descriptions from the scene.

In that case, the victim was a Hispanic minister from Brunswick who was not seriously injured.

Lockwood did not offer a motive for the shooting in his opening statements, but alluded several times that Santiago's parents were involved.

He said West called a life insurance company shortly after the fatal shooting to inquire about accessing a $5,000 policy taken out on the boy.

He also said West and Santiago's father, Louis, had gunshot residue on them.

Lockwood told the jury Santiago told a hospital chaplain that he and West were not always happy about having a baby.

He also said no one from the scene reported to police seeing suspects running away like Johnson claimed.

"You're going to hear that of all the people that law enforcement talked to in all those homes, not one of them saw anybody running from the scene in that residential neighborhood," Lockwood said.

The defense also argued that bullets from Santiago's head and Sherry West's leg were not from the same manufacturer, nor are they the same kind of bullet.

Witnesses who took the stand Tuesday include a former paramedic from the Glynn County Fire Department.

Raymond Melvin's last day with the county was also the day of the shooting, and the shooting was his second call on March 21.

He attempted to revive Santiago while transporting him to the hospital, but he testified a doctor instructed him to stop those efforts after about four minutes based on the nature of the wound.

Melvin testified there were never any signs of life in the toddler.

Dr. James Claude Upshaw, a regional medical examiner with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, took the stand for the state as well.

He testified that he was asked to conduct an autopsy on Santiago, but that he didn't notice anything unusual upon receiving the body in a body bag.

More witnesses are expected Wednesday morning, which could include Lang.

It is believed he is receiving a separate trial in exchange for his testimony against Elkins.

Witnesses in this case are being sequestered.

That means they can't follow the trial through the media, talk about the trial with other witnesses or attend the trial until after they've testified.

First Coast News

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