BRUNSWICK, Ga. — De’Marquise Elkins, the Georgia teenager convicted of the killing of Sherry West’s infant baby while it sat in his stroller while trying to rob the child’s mother, was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without parole plus 130 years.
Elkins, 18, was sentenced in Georgia’s Glynn County Superior Court less than two weeks after a jury found him guilty of malice murder in the slaying of 13-month-old Antonio Santiago in a killing that made national headlines back in the spring. Elkins’ mother, who was tried simultaneously, was convicted of tampering with evidence for retrieving the alleged murder weapon and disposing it into a saltwater pond just outside the city limits in Glynn County.
Sherry West, who was shot in the leg, was pushing the toddler in his stroller as they made their way back home from the post office, in Brunswick’s historic district, in the early morning hours on March 21 in the coastal port city in the southeast corner of Georgia. The jury was convinced that Elkins and his accomplice, Dominque Lang, 15, accosted West just five minutes from her home as Elkins demanded the mother’s purse.
West and Lang testified in court that Elkins shot the infant in the forehead after his mother refused to give up her purse.
The killing set off a city and countywide manhunt and made national headlines before and Elkins and Lang being arrested the following day. Elkins was spared the death penalty because the killing occurred when he was 17, which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled is too young to face capital punishment. Under Georgia law, the only possible punishments for Elkins were life with or without a chance of parole.
The case became so sensationalized that Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Kelly agreed to defense attorney Kevin Gough’s request to move the trial 325 miles east of Brunswick to suburban Atlanta. Lang, who is also charged with murder, will be tried in Glynn County at an unspecified date. Prosecutors deny that Lang will receive leniency for providing key testimony that helped convict Elkins.
West testified she pleaded with Elkins not to shoot her baby and that she had no money. She said she tried to cover her child with her arms as Elkins fired a warning shot, then shot her in the leg before firing the fatal shot at her baby’s face.
There was plenty of evidence and testimony — some of which the jury did not hear — that led defense attorneys and some observers to believe that Elkins did not commit this crime, and that even the mother and father of the slain child (Sherry West and Louis Santiago) could have murdered their own infant. For example:
- Police were able to recover a .22-caliber revolver from a saltwater pond that matched the kind of weapon that could have been used in the crime, although an agent from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation testified that he could not definitively tie the gun to the shooting:
- The GBI also retrieved gunshot residue (GSR) from the murdered baby’s mother, Sherrie West and the father, Louis Santiago, while none was retrieved from the convicted murder and accomplice, De’Marquise Elkins and Dominique Lang. Louis Santiago said he was not in the vicinity of the crime when the shooting took place, but said that he got GSR on his hand when he touched the bullet wound on his baby’s forehead when he identified the infant’s body.
- Louis Santiago’s ex-girlfriend and ex-wife — one who lives in Minnesota and one who lives in Florida — each called the Brunswick Police Department separately and told police they believe Santiago shot his own child. But their testimony of Santiago severely beating, torturing, threatening and terrorizing his ex-girlfriend and ex-spouse and children was never heard by the jury. Judge Kelley ruled their testimony was irrelevant. Santiago is also had a well-known addiction to drugs and alcohol and had been in jail at the time of the trial due to domestic violence against his girlfriend Sherrie West.
- Sherrie West’s own daughter stated that she was lost in a custody battle when she was 8-years-old. Ashley Glassey, 21, testified in court that she called Brunswick investigators and said she didn’t believe her mother’s story of how infant, Antonio Santiago, was killed and that West asked so quickly how soon she could collect on her dead baby’s insurance money.
- West is also known for having severe mental problems, including bipolar disorder, paranoia and phobia of crowds.
- West is known for having considerable financial issues because she lives on government assistance.
Elkins never testified at his two-week trial in August. But his defense attorneys argued police rushed to build a case against Elkins without considering other possible suspects. They even suggested the slain child’s own parents may have been the real killers.
Gough, Elkins’ lead attorney, has said he plans to appeal the murder conviction.