SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia teenager shot a 13-month-old baby in the face while trying to rob the child's mother, according to an indictment returned Wednesday that also charged the suspect with shooting another person in an unrelated robbery attempt earlier this month.
The indictment by a Glynn County grand jury charges 17-year-old De'Marquise Elkins on nine counts, including malice murder, in the slaying last Thursday of young Antonio Santiago a few blocks from his home in coastal Brunswick.
Another suspect, 15-year-old Dominique Lang, was indicted on seven counts including felony murder. But the indictment specifies that authorities believe it was Elkins who shot the child and wounded his mother with a .22-caliber revolver as the boys tried to steal money from her.
District Attorney Jackie Johnson of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit said in a statement Thursday she would not seek the death penalty against either suspect because Georgia law doesn't allow capital punishment for defendants charged with crimes committed before they were 18. Both teens are charged as adults.
Elkins was also indicted on two counts in a second attempted robbery and shooting that happened 10 days before the baby was slain. On March 11, according to the indictment, Elkins tried to rob a person identified as Wilfredo Calix-Flores, pointing a gun at him while demanding his cellphone and wallet. Elkins shot Calix-Flores in the arm with the same caliber revolver used to kill the baby 10 days later, the indictment says. He is charged with attempted robbery and assault with a deadly weapon.
Kevin Gough, a public defender representing Elkins, said he felt prosecutors rushed to indict his client before collecting all available evidence. Gough had asked a judge for a preliminary hearing next week to determine if prosecutors had sufficient evidence to charge Elkins. The indictment means a grand jury has already made that determination and Elkins' attorneys won't get an early look at the evidence against him.
"It's a major setback in the sense we would like to have an opportunity to test the strength of the evidence against our client," Gough said.
Lang's attorney, Kimberly L. Copeland, said she planned a vigorous defense but had no further comment.
"I believe in the innocence of my client," Copeland said.
The few details contained in the indictment seem to back up the story the slain baby's mother, Sherry West, has repeated to numerous reporters: She was pushing her baby in a stroller as she walked home from the post office when two youths approached asking for money. West says when she refused, the older teen drew a gun and shot her in the leg before shooting her son in the head.
Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering told reporters Wednesday before the indictment was returned that investigators believe the crime was random — something police hadn't said previously.
"We're comfortable now, six days into it, to say the location of the incident and the victim were random," Doering said. "I don't have any information that shows otherwise."
The grand jury also indicted three of Elkins' relatives on charges that they tried to help him after the shootings.
The suspect's mother, Karimah Elkins, and older sister, Sabrina Elkins, were charged with evidence tampering. The indictment says they threw the revolver that police suspect was used in the shooting into a saltwater pond where investigators recovered it Tuesday. Doering said the gun is being tested to see if it can be linked to the child's slaying.
Karimah Elkins and the suspect's aunt, Katrina Elkins, were also charged with making false statements to police. The indictment says the aunt told investigators her nephew was at her house when the slaying occurred — which she also told The Associated Press and other news outlets. It says the suspect's mother told police that her son was with her when the baby was shot.
Elkins' public defender has said he strongly believes his client is innocent. Gough has filed a court motion asking a judge to grant him access to mental health records of the slain boy's mother, saying they could be important to determining whether she's a credible witness.
"Obviously we're concerned about her credibility her ability to accurately recall events and identify anybody," Gough said. "If she suffers from any conditions that would do that, it would certainly be relevant to the case."