SAVANNAH, Ga. -- The Georgia Supreme Court has ordered a trial judge to review whether a teenager was properly sentenced to life without parole after he was convicted of fatally shooting a baby in the face.
De'Marquise Kareem Elkins was 17 when the baby was slain in his stroller during a failed street robbery on March 21, 2013. Police said Elkins shot 13-month-old Antonio Santiago between the eyes after the boy's mother refused to hand over her purse when she was threatened while walking in coastal Brunswick, about 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Savannah.
Elkins was ineligible for the death penalty because the crime occurred three months before his 18th birthday. But after a jury convicted Elkins of malice murder and other crimes, Superior Court Judge Stephen Kelly sentenced him to life in prison with no chance of parole, though the teen's defense attorneys argued that punishment was too harsh.
In a ruling Friday, the state Supreme Court unanimously upheld the guilty verdicts against Elkins, finding "the evidence presented at trial was legally sufficient to support (Elkins') convictions." But the court also ruled the trial judge erred later by refusing to hold a hearing on Elkins' claim that his attorney ineffectively handled a motion seeking a new sentence.
Georgia's high court sent the case back to the trial judge, ordering an evidentiary hearing on the sentencing issue.
Elkins' appellate attorney, Josh Moore, declined to comment when reached by phone Monday.
Attorneys for Elkins have argued he should be resentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. That's based on a 2016 decision in which Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court "has now made it clear that life-without-parole sentences may be constitutionally imposed only on the worst-of-the-worst juvenile murderers."
The state's high court said a life-without-parole sentence for a juvenile must be supported by evidence that the defendant is "irreparably corrupt or permanently incorrigible."
Testimony at Elkins' trial showed the slain baby's mother, Sherry West, was out for a walk and pushing her son in his stroller when Elkins and a younger accomplice confronted West and demanded her purse.
West testified that when she refused to hand over her purse, Elkins struck her in the face with a gun and began counting down from five. After he reached three, she said, Elkins shot her in the leg and finished counting. When she still clung to her purse, West said, Elkins pointed the gun at her baby and shot him between the eyes. The boy died instantly.
In addition to his sentence of life without parole, Elkins received an additional 125 years in prison for assaulting West as well as for shooting a pastor, Wilfredo Calix-Flores, who was wounded during a robbery attempt behind his church 10 days before the child was slain.
At Elkins' sentencing hearing in September 2013, West wept as she testified about the son who was slain before he was old enough to speak.
"The love of my life was taken away, far away," West said. "All I can do is cry and wonder when I'm going to die."