Valdosta Daily Times

March 12, 2014

Teen seeks juvenile trial in Ga. baby killing

RUSS BYNUM
The Associated Press

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — A teenager charged as an accomplice in the fatal shooting of a 13-month-old boy in his stroller wants his trial moved to juvenile court so he can avoid being prosecuted for murder — a legal move the slain baby’s mother said Tuesday she opposes.

Dominique Lang, 16, faces life in prison if he is tried as an adult and convicted of felony murder in the slaying a year ago of young Antonio Santiago. Prosecutors say Lang didn’t pull the trigger and nobody claims he was even armed during the botched street robbery in which the child was shot between the eyes. De’Marquise Elkins, 18, was convicted last summer of being the gunman after Lang testified against him.

Now Lang’s defense attorney wants prosecutors and Superior Court Judge Stephen Kelley to agree to transfer his case to juvenile court. District Attorney Jackie Johnson didn’t oppose the move during a hearing Tuesday, but she noted Georgia law prohibits juvenile courts from hearing murder cases.

“The only way it goes to juvenile court is if the murder charge goes away,” Johnson told the judge. “At this point, without making a decision on it one way or the other, I think I’d like to say let’s wait and see what a mental evaluation would show.”

Lang is also charged with aggravated assault, attempted armed robbery and cruelty to children.

Sherry West says she was pushing her young son in his stroller as they walked home from the post office on March 21, 2013, when Elkins and Lang approached her on the street. She says Elkins demanded her purse and when she refused he drew a gun. West says Lang watched as Elkins fired into the ground, then shot her in the leg and finally shot her baby in the face.

Leaving the courthouse Tuesday, West said Lang shouldn’t be spared from a murder prosecution. She said he never tried to stop Elkins and didn’t run away to call police. And she said his presence at Elkins’ side made her afraid to fight back after her child was threatened.

“I really felt like he was as big of a threat to me and my baby as the shooter,” West said.

The judge ordered Lang to undergo a mental evaluation before deciding how to proceed with the case. Lang’s defense attorney, Kimberly Copeland, had asked for the evaluation to determine her client’s maturity level and mental capacity.

“Our defense has always been that Mr. Lang was more of a witness in this matter than a participant,” Copeland said.

At Elkins’ trial last August, Lang testified that he had just met the older teen the morning of the shooting when Elkins talked him into looking for somebody to rob. On the witness stand, he told jurors that Elkins threatened to kill West’s baby by counting down after she refused to give him her purse.

“He was like, ‘Five, four, three,’ and then she stopped him,” Lang testified. When the woman still refused to let go of her purse, he said, Elkins fired three shots — one at the ground, one into the mother’s leg and a third that he heard but didn’t see. He and Elkins ran away. West’s baby boy was dead.

Prosecutors have insisted they made no deals with Lang to reduce any charges in exchange for his testimony.

Also Tuesday, the judge sentenced Elkins’ mother to 10 years in prison for evidence tampering. Karimah Elkins was convicted last year, with prosecutors saying she dumped the .22-caliber revolver used in the slaying in a pond where police later found it. Elkins’ sister, Sabrina Elkins, faces trial May 19 on the same charge. His aunt, Katrina Elkins, will be tried separately on charges she lied to police investigating the slaying.