SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A teenager charged as an accomplice in the killing of a toddler during a street robbery attempt two years ago pleaded guilty Tuesday in a deal with prosecutors that allows him to be released from jail.
Prosecutors agreed to drop a felony murder charge against 17-year-old Dominique Lang in the slaying of young Antonio Santiago. The boy was just 13 months old when he was shot between the eyes in his stroller on March 21, 2013. Authorities say Lang and another teenager were trying to rob the child's mother on a street near her home in coastal Brunswick.
Lang pleaded guilty to criminal attempt to commit armed robbery, said District Attorney Jackie Johnson of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit. A Superior Court judge gave Lang credit for the two years he has already served in jail and sentenced him to eight more years on probation. Johnson said Lang will spend the next year essentially under house arrest, unable to leave his grandmother's home except for school, work and church.
"I think everybody involved in the case realized certainly he had some share of the responsibility, but he also played a role in helping us solve the case."
Lang cooperated with authorities in the arrest and prosecution of De'Marquise Elkins, who was convicted of killing the toddler as well as shooting and wounding the boy's mother. Elkins was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. Lang had testified against Elkins at his trial.
Lang's defense attorney, Kimberly Copeland, had long argued he should be considered a witness rather than a suspect. She said he had just met the 17-year-old Elkins the morning of the shooting, when Elkins asked Lang if he wanted to help rob somebody. Lang was 15 at the time and prosecutors have said there's no evidence he had a gun.
"Had this case not had the public scrutiny, the best deal for him would have been to dismiss the entire case," said Copeland, who noted Lang would have faced a life sentence if his case had gone to trial. "I couldn't put him at risk, knowing how the public feels about this."
Copeland had been trying to persuade the judge to send Lang's case to juvenile court, but she backed off when prosecutors agreed to a sentence that would free Lang from jail.
Lang was the final suspect facing prosecution in the case. Three of Elkins' relatives were also sentenced previously. His mother was convicted and his sister pleaded guilty to evidence tampering charges for trying to dispose of the gun used in the killing. Elkins' aunt pleaded guilty to lying to police after she gave investigators a false alibi for her nephew.