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August 28, 2013

Mother of slain Ga. baby cross-examined by defense

MARIETTA, Ga. — The mother of a baby who was fatally shot in his stroller in coastal Georgia testified at a man’s murder trial Tuesday that she threw her arms across her baby in a bid to save him.

Sherry West cried as she told the court what happened as she walked home from the Brunswick post office March 21 with her 13-month-old son, Antonio Santiago. Two teenagers approached her, and the older one demanded money, West testified.

De’Marquise Elkins, 18, is charged with murder in the baby’s slaying.

West testified about her interaction with the older teen who approached her. “I told him I have a baby and I have expenses and I didn’t have it,” she said.

The teen threatened the baby when she refused to give him money a second time, she said.

“He asked me if I wanted him to shoot my baby,” West said. “I said, ‘Don’t shoot my baby.”’

She said the teen fired a warning shot into the ground, then another shot that grazed her ear and another that hit her in the leg. He then turned toward the baby in the stroller.

“I tried to stop him,” she said. “I put my arms over my baby, but he still shot him.”

Afterward, the teen tried to grab her purse and hit her in the head with his gun, she said, adding she screamed for help and both teens ran.

Asked by prosecutor Andrew Ekonomou if the shooter was in the courtroom, West said he was and pointed at Elkins. Seated at the defense table, he showed no emotion.

West is expected to take the stand again Wednesday.

Prosecutors say Elkins and an accomplice, 15-year-old Dominique Lang, stopped West, and the older teen pointed a small .22-caliber revolver at her and demanded money before shots were fired.

The killing in the port city of Brunswick drew national attention, and the trial was moved to the Atlanta suburb of Marietta owing to extensive publicity

Elkins faces up to 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.

De’Marquise Elkins’ attorney, Kevin Gough, asked West about whether she and the baby’s father, Louis Santiago, ever regretted having the baby. West said she never regretted having the child, that she and Santiago had been planning to have another. But she acknowledged under questioning by Gough that her relationship with Santiago was troubled.

Gough also repeatedly attacked West’s credibility on cross examination.

He asked her several times how she could be certain it was Elkins who shot the baby and asked questions about her interview with police that seemed to indicate she had expressed uncertainty about the shooter’s identity to investigators.

Gough also asked West about medications she takes for various conditions, including bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and paranoia. He had her look at a list of side effects of her medications, including memory problems, hallucinations, delusions and impaired vision. He asked several times whether it was possible she was suffering from a psychotic episode during questioning by police.

He also questioned her choice of walking route to and from the post office and asked why she would take a walk with her baby if she knew the neighborhood to be dangerous. He also noted that Louis Santiago had stopped by the morning of the shooting and asked her why she didn’t have him get stamps or mail a letter for her.

Prosecutors have also accused De’Marquise Elkins of shooting a pastor during an attempted robbery outside a Hispanic church in Brunswick 10 days before the baby was killed. Wilfredo Calix Flores testified earlier Tuesday that he and another man, Clever Jimenez, were working on a fence outside the church when they were approached by a young man who pointed a gun at them and demanded money and cell phones.

When the men said they didn’t have any, the young man shot Flores, he and Jimenez testified. Both men testified that they picked Elkins out of a photo lineup and pointed at Elkins when asked if the shooter was in the courtroom.

Dont’e Jackson, 17, said he and another friend were with Elkins on March 11 and saw him shoot the pastor after demanding his wallet. Jackson said Elkins threatened that something bad would happen to them if they told anyone about the killing.

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