BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia teen convicted of fatally shooting a baby in a stroller was sentenced Thursday to spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole after the grieving mother asked a judge to punish the gunman for taking “the love of my life.”
De’Marquise Elkins, 18, stood silent and showed no emotion as he was sentenced in a courtroom less than two weeks after a jury found him guilty of murder in the slaying of 13-month-old Antonio Santiago during a robbery attempt.
“His first word was never heard. His first sentence was never said,” Sherry West, the baby’s mother, said through tears on the witness stand as she read a statement made to rhyme like a poem or a nursery rhyme. “He never got to sleep in a toddler bed.”
The baby was in his stroller and out for a walk with his mother when he was shot between the eyes March 21 in the Georgia coastal city of Brunswick. West, and a younger teenager charged as an accomplice, both testified at trial that Elkins killed the baby after his mother refused to give up her purse.
The killing drew national attention and Elkins’ trial was moved more than 300 miles away to the Atlanta suburbs because of pretrial publicity.
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.
Elkins’ defense attorneys told Superior Court Judge Stephen Kelley that life without parole was too harsh for such a young defendant. They introduced court documents from the past seven years showing Elkins had been neglected by a mother who struggled with drug abuse and sometimes left him home alone without food.
The judge not only gave Elkins the maximum possible punishment for his murder conviction, but also sentenced him to 105 additional years in prison for other counts including aggravated assault and attempted armed robbery. That included 30 years for shooting and wounding a pastor outside his church 10 days before the killing.
“We’re definitely disappointed with the ruling,” defense attorney Kevin Gough said as he left Glynn County Superior Court. “Life without parole for a juvenile, our position remains, is cruel and unusual punishment.”
Gough said he plans to appeal both the verdict and the sentence. Elkins would have been eligible for parole in 30 years had that been allowed as part of his sentence.
Ultimately the judge sided with prosecutors who spoke of the brutal circumstances of the crime and that Elkins escaped facing the death penalty only because he was a few months shy of his 18th birthday when the baby was slain.