Key Witness Admitted in Baby Murder Trial
MARIETTA, Ga. (CN) - Attorneys for the teenager accused of murdering a baby in a stroller tried unsuccessfully Wednesday to exclude testimony from the teen's accused accomplice.
Dominique Lang will be tried separately for felony murder of 13-month-old Antonio Santiago and the aggravated assault and robbery of the baby's mother, Sherry West.
Lang testified in a motion hearing Wednesday out of the presence of the jury, then submitted to questions before the jury in the murder trial of De'Marquise Elkins, who is accused of shooting the baby in the face after the mother refused his demand for money.
Lang looked nervous as he took the stand.
His attorney standing by, Lang answered rapid-fire questions from Glynn County Assistant Public Defender Jonathan Lockwood concerning inconsistencies in Lang's identification of Elkins as the shooter.
The defense argued during the motion hearing that Lang is not a credible witness and the jury should not hear him testify.
Lockwood addressed Lang's "messed-up memory," telling the court that Lang had testified earlier that he had never met anyone from the district attorney's office.
"You've never seen these three people?" Lockwood asked, pointing to the prosecution's table.
"No," Lang replied.
Under questioning by the defense team, Lang admitted lying at least four times to Brunswick City and Glynn County police about his relationship to Elkins, how they met and how long he knew Elkins before the attempted robbery and murder.
Lang admitted being at the crime scene when the baby was shot, but said: "I didn't kill no baby."
Glynn County police claim Lang identified De'Marquise Elkins as the person who attacked Sherry West and killed her son, picking him from a photo lineup on March 22, a day after the killing.
When Lockwood asked Lang on Wednesday whether the picture being entered into evidence was the same one shown to him during the evidentiary hearing, Lang replied, "I don't remember."
Lockwood responded, "So you are saying the one photo you saw of this person you've completely forgotten? Wasn't it an important photo?"
Lang replied: "It was, but I have been locked up for five months in a four-by-nine cell at YDC [Youth Detention Center] and I forgot about it."
Lang said at first that he was friendly with Elkins before March 21 - the date of the killing - then later Wednesday changed the story.
Lockwood asked: "This person that you were with, how many times had you seen him? How long were you with him?"
Lang replied softly: "Five minutes. Five minutes the first time I was with him. Five minutes the second time."
Lockwood: "When you saw him, were you able to get a good look at him?"
Lang: "Yes. I was with him less than an hour. Less than 30 minutes, around 15 minutes."
Lockwood: "So, the first time you saw him was on March 21?"
Lang: "Never seen this person before March 21."
Barely audible at times, Lang mumbled one- or two-word answers until Lockwood asked: "Do I aggravate you or make you nervous?"
Lang replied: "Yes sir."
"Is that why you are giving me these one-word answers?"
"Yes, sir. I just want to go home, sir. I don't want to be here."
Lang, Elkins and Sherry West are believed to be the only eyewitnesses to the killing.
Glynn County Assistant District Attorney Liberty Stewart argued: "We are dealing with a person that saw this person [Elkins] before March 21, a person who witnessed him hit Sherry West, a person who witnessed three gunshots being fired by him, and witnessed him leave. We are not dealing with a victim who saw this person in the blink of an eye, but a person who was with him for a substantial amount of time on March 21."
Attorney Wrix McIlvaine represents De'Marquise Elkins' mother, Karimah, who is being tried with her son on charges of obstructing the investigation by hiding the gun. McIlvaine told the court: "This young man can't remember anything except for the clothing he was wearing. The officer showed one picture, put it in front of him 24 hours after the murder, and he can't even identify him. His identification should be suppressed."
Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Kelley denied the motion to suppress Lang's testimony.
"Identity is a question for the jury," the judge said. "The credibility and weight given Lang is up to the jury."
Then the jury was called in, and cross-examination of Brunswick City Police Det. Angela Smith continued.
Glynn County Public Defender Kevin Gough picked apart Smith's previous testimony about her interviews and initial investigations of Sherry West.
Gough tried, through repeated questioning, to get Smith to say that she and other Brunswick and Glynn County police officers and two civilians influenced West's identification of Elkins during a police lineup.
Smith vehemently denied that she or any other officer did this.
In answer to Gough's questions, Smith told the jury that two police cars and an ambulance were dispatched to the crime scene minutes after the shooting.
"So all of these people are on the scene, but they don't see two black males fleeing the scene?" Gough asked.
"I don't know. I can't answer to that," Smith said.
"You were there by 9:15 and an Officer Armstrong by 9:18. I mean, do you think that Mr. Elkins has some sort of superpowers or a cloak of invisibility?" Gough asked.
In asking where the crime occurred, Gough asked Smith whether she knew why West had not taken a different street to get the post office, or go to another mail stop.
West was pushing her baby in a stroller, returning from the post office, when her baby was killed.
Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson, standing up almost every 10 seconds, objected several times.
"He's trying to elicit answers from this witness that she can't possibly know because it's based on things the witness doesn't know," Johnson said.
Gough rephrased his question several times, finally asking Smith: "You went to high school in Georgia, right? You are familiar with James Oglethorpe [the founder of Georgia] and how he laid out the streets in the city, right?"
Exasperated, Johnson rose to her feet, raised her voice and said, "The witness doesn't need to know how Oglethorpe laid out the streets in the city. It's not relevant, your honor."
The objection was sustained.
Late in the afternoon, the state called three witnesses who allegedly had contact with Elkins and Lang after the crimes were committed.
Debra Obley, Lang's great aunt, testified that she saw Elkins and Lang together at the home of her mother - Rena Mae Williams, Dominique Lang's great-grandmother - an hour or more after the killing.
"I went to my mother's house, and my mom was standing on the porch. I asked her what was going on," Obley told the jury.
"My nephew, Joe Lang, was there, and I saw my great-nephew Dominique Lang there too. The other guy was there too. He was real dark-skinned and had coarse hair."
Obley said she took her mother with her, along with her daughter, her friends Diana Moran and Patricia Lawrence, and drove to crime scene, then dropped off Diana and her daughter before returning to her mother's home.
"My mom wanted the guy to leave the house, so I asked him to leave. He asked for a ride and I told him I'd give him a ride if I could get some gas. Dominique gave me some money for gas," Obley said.
She gave him a ride and he sat in the back seat with her friend, Patricia, Obley said.
"I asked him if he skipped school that day and he wanted to get out of the car. I asked him why he was acting strange and getting down in the car," Obley said.
"He had something sticking out of his pocket. Something was in his pants. I saw the tip that looked like a gun that was black. I did not ask him about it. I just went about my business."
Obley said she returned to her mother's house that afternoon to question Dominique.
"I asked him if he had anything to do with what happened and he said, 'No, ma'am, I did not.'"
District Attorney Lockwood reminded Obley about her statement to Glynn County police that she "didn't want to remember" where Dominique was that morning.
Lockwood claimed that Obley had changed her story: from not knowing or seeing Lang or De'Marquise Elkins on March 21, to giving Elkins a ride and seeing a gun in his pocket, and that she did this after discussing the city's reward for information on the case with Archie Brooks.
Both Lockwood and McIlvaine asked if Brooks was her boyfriend.
"You are splitting money with Archie Brooks. Don't you share a bed with Mr. Brooks?" asked McIlvaine.
"That's not right. I'm not involved with him. We know each other form church," Obley answered.
Lockwood reminded Obley that she failed to select De'Marquise Elkins from a photo lineup.
"I don't know who I picked," she said. "They did not tell me."
Lockwood told her: "You said three young teenage boys were at Rena Mae's house. You lied about what you told police about Lang and Elkins being at your house."
Obley sighed, looked down, and said: "Yes."
Obley's friend Diana Moran said under cross-examination that she never saw Dominique Lang's cousin, Joe Lang, at Rena Mae Williams' home, which she visited often, but that she saw Dominique and Elkins inside the house.
"You've been interviewed by Officer Beverly Oliver twice, and you didn't mention who Dominique was the first time," said Lockwood. "In the second discussion, you finally mention that it's Elkin's boy, Karimah's son, and you asked Oliver for money for a tire, correct?"
Moran replied: "I got to come up with some money for a tire, and I asked her for money."
The last witness to testify Wednesday was Joe Lang, Dominique Lang's third cousin. In response to questions from prosecutor Liberty Stewart, Joe Lang pointed out Elkins in the courtroom, and said that Dominique Lang was on his grandmother's porch on March 21.
Joe Lang, 15, seemed to struggle at times with questions on cross examination, especially questions about his testimony in pre-trial hearings.
Lockwood asked Joe Lang to recollect the exact time and place where he woke up the morning of the killing.
Lang said he spent the night at his aunt's apartment in a public housing project about a mile away from his grandmother's house, and skipped school on March 21. After waking up at his aunt's apartment, he left and walked to his great grandmother's home, making it there by 10 a.m., he said.
"Are you positive about that, Mr. Lang?" asked Lockwood.
"I'm pretty sure," he replied.
Lockwood presented a transcript of Lang's testimony under oath at a pretrial hearing that recorded him saying twice that he was "around the corner" from his grandmother's house the morning of March 21.
"The transcript is wrong. I never said that I was around the corner," Lang said.
"You never said that under oath in Glynn County? Are you saying that the person that transcribed the hearing got it wrong two times?"
Lang sat in silence for a few seconds, leaning back in his chair, then looking up at the ceiling.
"Judge, the witness must answer the question yes or no," Lockwood demanded.
Lockwood asked again: "Why did you say you were pretty sure about where you were, and then two seconds later, you say you are uncertain about where you were?"
Judge Kelley called a recess for the day before Lang could answer the question.