Mother of baby shot in stroller gives tearful testimony
by Walter C Jones, Morris News Service
MARIETTA, Ga. -- Sherry West gave a tearful testimony Tuesday in the murder trial of the Brunswick man accused of shooting to death her baby in its stroller.
She said two boys came down Ellis Street as she pushed the stroller on her way back from buying a stamp at the post office March 21.
"The big one approached me and said for me to give him money," she said. "... I told him I didn't have any. ... I told him I have a baby and I have expenses. ... He asked me if I wanted him to shoot my baby. I told him not to shot my baby."
The courtroom was packed with spectators during the emotional peak of a trial that has gained national attention. Jurors scribbled notes, at least one dabbing her eyes. The defendant's mother yawned.
De'Marquise Elkins, 18, is being tried for murdering 13-month-old Antonio Santiago and shooting West in the leg during an attempted robbery. He is also being tried for another botched robbery 11 days earlier.
Elkins is being tried of both crimes in Cobb County Superior Court because of the heavy news coverage in Glynn County. West told how Elkins fired a warning shot into the ground, then slapped her with the pistol before firing another round at her head as she ducked. Next, she said he shot her leg.
"He walked around and shot my baby," she said. "I tried to stop him. I put my arms over my baby, but he still shot him."
Her screams for police drove the boys off, she said, adding that she pushed the stroller inside the gate to her home and tried to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation until an ambulance arrived. She was whisked to the same hospital as the child.
"I kept asking if he was all right. No one would tell me," she said.
During a lengthy cross examination, defense attorney Kevin Gough got her to acknowledge a scarred cornea and her need for contact lenses.
"My vision improved," she said.
He also got her to acknowledge that she suffers from multiple mental illnesses and takes two medications for them that both produce hallucinations and memory loss as side effects.
West originally selected the photo of co-defendant Dominique Lang as the shooter from a stack of pictures officers showed her the day of the shooting. The next day, she identified Elkins from a photo lineup.
Gough challenged her identification. "Is it possible you may be mistaken in identifying Mr. Elkins?" the defender asked.
"No. Mr. Elkins was standing right in front of me," she said.
Gough also asked her about a Gerber Life Insurance policy she had on Antonio, the fact that neighbors didn't see any blacks running away and why she hadn't asked the child's father to buy the stamp and avoid a walk in the cold through a crime-ridden neighborhood. He said he was merely following up on questions police raised with her originally.
Earlier Tuesday a parade of prosecution witnesses linked Elkins to a similar incident.
Among the witnesses were the Rev. Wilfredo Calix Flores and Clever Jimenez Gomez who each pointed out Elkins as the man who pulled a gun on March 11 demanding money and a cell phone. They separately testified that Elkins shot Calix Flores in the arm when no wallet or phone was produced.
"That looks like the person who attacked us," Jimenez Gomez said through an interpreter.
Calix Flores, also speaking through an interpreter, choked up when describing the incident. He stood and pointed where the bullet entered and exited his left arm and grazed his side, and he recounted how he was so shocked afterward that he staggered into the church and knelt down to pray until police and an ambulance arrived.
Prosecutors displayed a photo of blood drops on the doorway where he prayed while Jimenez Gomez used his own belt as a tourniquet.
The jury also heard from one of the two teens allegedly with Elkins during Calix Flores' shooting, Dont'e Jackson, 17. Jackson, who is charged in the incident but said he has no deal with prosecutors, testified that he and a friend were walking down the alley where Calix Flores and Jimenez Gomez were modifying a fence gate and were ahead of Elkins when they heard a ruckus behind them.
"The next thing I know, De'Marquise is saying, 'Give it up,'" Jackson said. "... When the man wouldn't give him any money, he shot the man."
All three witnesses identified a photo of the .22 caliber revolver police believe Elkins used to shoot Antonio Santiago 11 days later.
Defense attorney Ashley Wood tried to weaken each witness' credibility.
During cross examination of Jimenez Gomez, she asked if he was threatened by police with deportation as an illegal immigrant, but he said they never mentioned it.
"You're going to say anything the police want you to say so you can stay in the country," she charged.
She said investigators had pressured him.
"No. No one pressured me," he said. "... I don't know if that's what they wanted to hear or not. I just told them the way it was."
Wood challenged Jackson because he had originally told investigators he wasn't involved in Calix Flores' shooting. Jackson acknowledged repeatedly on the stand that he had lied to detectives on two occasions before his own arrest.
"I was lying the first two times because my life was in danger," he said as his attorney stood nearby. "... He threatened me. I just saw him shoot somebody."
Jackson explained that after the shooting, Elkins threatened him if word of the incident was mentioned. However, being arrested and given the chance to live with his grandfather instead of returning to the neighborhood where he grew up with
Elkins gave him the assurance of his safety, Jackson said. Prosecutors expected to complete their case Tuesday afternoon. Defense attorneys say they are ready to begin presenting their first witnesses Wednesday.
Both sides and the judge agree that they don't want to ruin jurors' plans for the holiday weekend and are trying to wrap up the case beforehand with long court sessions.