The co-defendant and star witness for the prosecution, 15-year-old Dominique Lang of Brunswick, traded in his jail jumpsuit for slacks and a button-down shirt as he testified for more than five hours Thursday against Elkins in front of the Cobb jury for the first time.
Lang is accused of being present when police say Elkins shot 13-month-old Antonio Santiago in the face and shot the toddler’s mother in the leg March 21 in Brunswick.
Lang also faces murder charges but will not be tried in Cobb. A date for his trial has not been set.
Elkins’ trial was moved to Cobb from coastal Glynn County because of concerns about extensive pre-trial media coverage locally and racial tensions in the city. The trial could last at least another week. Prosecutors say they won’t make their way through their 35 witnesses until Tuesday.
Elkins is charged with murder and cruelty to children but, if convicted, cannot be sentenced to death because he was 17 years old at the time of the shooting.
When questioned by police the day after the shooting, Lang first said he did not see Elkins pull the trigger and fire the shot that killed Antonio. Yet on Thursday, Lang told the jury he did witness the shooting.
It was one of more than a dozen lies defense attorneys for Elkins pointed out in an attempt to diminish Lang’s credibility. Other lies the defense accused him of include telling police he didn’t know Elkins had a gun and didn’t know he shot anyone, lies Lang admitted to making.
“So at this point you’ve established you’ve lied to police, you’ve lied to your grandmother and you’ve lied to your aunt,” said defense attorney Jonathan Lockwood.
“Me and my auntie don’t get along,” answered Lang, adding that it’s acceptable to lie to people he doesn’t get along with.
“I think we’ve established you don’t get along with me,” Lockwood said, referring to Lang’s statement the day before that he was “aggravated” with Lockwood.
In the Glynn County investigation room the day after the shooting, Lang told police he didn’t see Elkins shoot the baby. Later, he said, “I guess I saw it.”
“Mr. Lang, wouldn’t you agree that if a person saw a baby shot between the eyes, that’s something you would never forget?” Lockwood said.
“OK, I lied,” Lang said after a long line of questioning. “I lied.”
Lang sat quietly at times, looking toward his shackled feet with his head down, taking his time to answer questions. That prompted Lockwood to ask Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Kelley to order Lang to answer.
“Nine out of ten things you’ve said have been a freaking lie,” said Lockwood, reading from a transcript of a police interview with Lang.
Defense attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the trial based on “outrageous government misconduct,” but have not had the opportunity to argue their case before the judge.
They allege an ex-wife of Louis Santiago, the father of Antonio who is not married to the dead child’s mother, contacted police. The ex-wife believed he played a role in the baby’s death. Police did not follow up on those statements, defense attorney Kevin Gough said in the motion.
A former fiancee of Santiago also described him as “ruthless and evil,” according to the motion.
Jury hears how slaying allegedly happened
The jury got its first eyewitness account Thursday of the alleged attempted robbery gone wrong that left Antonio Santiago dead in his stroller on a Brunswick street.
Lang met up with Elkins the morning of the March shooting. He had seen Elkins around Glynn Villas, a government housing complex, but said the two had not formally met.
“He asked if I had ever robbed anybody for money before,” Lang said speaking quietly, looking down and slouching into the microphone on the witness stand.
Elkins then asked if he was a “Mexican” and if he knew where “Mexicans hang out,” Lang said.
Antonio was of mixed race and had a Hispanic father. Elkins is also charged with shooting a Hispanic minister during an armed robbery 10 days before he allegedly killed Antonio.
“He was showing me the handgun on his waist,” Lang said.
Lang was following Elkins down the tree-lined streets of Brunswick when Elkins approached a woman with a stroller. He said he wasn’t expecting what happened next.
Elkins walked quickly toward the woman, Sherry West of Brunswick, and demanded her purse, Lang said, and became violent when she refused.
“He struck Mrs. West in the face (with a gun),” Lang said.
Elkins continued to demand the purse, but West wouldn’t give it up.
“He was grabbing it and she was just tugging with him,” Lang said adding that Antonio’s stroller was between the two while they fought over the purse. “He threatened the baby.”
Elkins started to count down seemingly to the moment when he would harm the infant.
“He was like five, four, three and then she stopped him,” Lang said.
The same exchange took place again and, still, the purse wasn’t handed over. A shot was fired at the ground, he said, and then one was fired into West’s leg.
“I froze in shock mode,” Lang said.
The gun was aimed toward the child in the stroller, Lang testified, and then he said he heard another shot — the one that struck Antonio between the eyes killing him in his stroller.
“I took off running,” Lang said.
A transcript from a police interview prosecutors referenced quoted Lang saying, “Please don’t tell me you shot that baby, bro,” and “Man, I ain’t fixin’ to be witnessing this.”
State: No deal with accomplice
Lang faces murder charges and a potential life sentence if he is convicted, though his trial date hasn’t been set. The defense says that charge could cause his testimony against Elkins to be biased.
He is the only eye witness to the crime other than West, the baby’s mother, who will also testify, and he is a key witness for the prosecution.
“There ain’t no deal or no promise,” Lang told Lockwood in the loudest voice he’d used during the five hours of questioning.
Defense attorney Wrix McIlvaine told him he’s looking at a lot of time, two life sentences for two murder charges.
That prompted the judge to stop questioning and dismiss the jury for a break. After the break, with jurors out of the room, Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Kelley told attorneys that saying he’ll serve two sentences is misleading because there is only one alleged murder victim.
Defense attorneys for Elkins argued the potential for bias could violate Elkins’ constitutional right to a fair trial.
“There is, in fact, a deal between the state and this witness,” said Gough, lead defense attorney.
Both Lang’s attorney and prosecutors vehemently disagreed.
“The state of Georgia has no deal with Dominique Lang in this case. We have no deal with him. We have made no promises. We have given him no offer of leniency,” said Andrew Ekonomoe, assistant district attorney with the Brunswick Judicial Circuit.