BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Businessman and pastor Kenneth Adkins was rudely introduced to some disturbing local dynamics when he moved into this small town on the Southeastern tip of Georgia from Jacksonville, Fla., seven years ago, mainly:
1. The first Christmas parade he attended was led by the Sons of the Confederate Soldiers.
2. The 150-year-old city and county, despite having a racial composition of approximately 60 percent African American, has never elected a black mayor in its entire history.
3. The proliferation of Confederate flags that blow in the wind from cars and homes is in much higher quantity than Jacksonville, which sits an hour south of here.`
It is within this demoralizing, toxic cultural brew that a most heinous crime was committed that split the town by racial lines and further exacerbated ethnic strife.
A 42-year-old woman, Sherry West, was walking her 13-month-old son, Antonio Santiago, home from the post office when she was allegedly accosted and shot by two black teens, De’marquis Elkins, 17, and Dominique Lang, 15.
According to her testimony, when West didn’t provide the teens what they wanted, one of the two teens allegedly shot her infant in the face, killing it instantly, after shooting her in the leg. The case has garnered sensational national headlines and torn asunder any modicum of racial harmony in this coastal city. This is happening even as evidence has been unearthed that may exonerate the two black teens — mainly that the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) found gun residue on the hands of the mother as well as her ex-boyfriend, Louis Santiago, who is currently in jail without bond on unrelated charges of violence. But the GBI did not find evidence of gun residue on the black teens in question.
More troubling is the fact that the mother suffers from acute mental problems, she was involved in several violent altercations with her ex-boyfriend that attracted the attention of the police, there were no eye witnesses, and the two teens are charged based on her testimony alone.
Despite this and many other very conspicuous discrepancies, the two black teens are set to be tried for first-degree murder in the infant’s death and face life in prison if convicted (they are ineligible for the death penalty because they are under 18).
Adkins was in the courtroom during the preliminary hearings and he plans to attend every day of the trial four hours away in suburban Atlanta (the case was moved to ensure the two accused boys receive a fair trial). He has serious issues with the case.
“This is what I believe — there are a lot of questions that are unanswered, and that I’m very uncomfortable with it,” said Adkins, pastor of Greater Dimension Christian Fellowship and owner of five businesses. “The boyfriend testified during the prelim, when he got the news that his baby’s mother had been shot and that his baby had been killed. Throughout his testimony, he said he was under stress that his baby had been shot. When he was in the hospital, b/c he never seen a bullet wound he may have put his fingers on the bullet wound. Now all of a sudden you havn’t seen bullet hole and you are intrigued. I found that to be interesting.”
Then there is the matter of West’s daughter, Ashley Glassey, 21, who doesn’t believe her own mother, Sherry West, because she gave conflicting stories after the murder. West has a history of mental problems and lost custody of her eldest daughter when she was 8 years old. West is known to suffer from schizophrenia. Glassey thinks her biological mother might be trying to cash in on insurance money and she related this to police officers. They have yet to get back to her.
“The daughter of the mother, she doesn’t believe her mother’s story. I think she is very credible. She is family,” Adkins. “Her opinion needs to be heard, needs to be understood. Let all of the evidence be heard.”
Adkins said many people have already made up their minds, regardless of the evidence produced. He also noted that most whites in Brunswick believe the two teens are guilty and that prominent black townsfolk are afraid to speak up, particularly the so-called leadership.
“This is the Antebellum South,” Adkins said. “You can still see a lot of Confederate flags. I came here seven years ago, and during my first Christmas parade I saw that it was led by the Sons of the Confederate Soldiers. That was my first entry into the Christmas parade for the city of Brunswick. That’ was a little shocking to me.”
And that, perhaps, contributed to the decision to move the trial to Marietta, Ga., which begins on Aug. 19