A judge moved the trial of De'Marquise Elkins, 18, to the suburbs north of Atlanta, more than 325 miles from the crime scene where young Antonio Santiago was slain March 21 in the port city of Brunswick. Prosecutors say Elkins and a 15-year-old accomplice were trying to rob the child's mother and that Elkins shot the toddler when she said she had no money.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys began questioning potential jurors Monday at the Cobb County courthouse. They are set to resume jury selection Tuesday morning.
Elkins faces life in prison if convicted of murder. His youth spared him a possible death sentence. At the time of the shooting he was 17, too young to face capital charges in Georgia.
Investigators concluded that Antonio was killed during an attempted street robbery as his mother, Sherry West, was strolling home with the child from the post office. West said a gunman demanding cash shot her baby in the face after she told him she had no money.
"He kept asking, and I just said 'I don't have it,'" West told The Associated Press the day after the slaying. "And he said, 'Do you want me to kill your baby?' And I said, 'No, don't kill my baby!'"
West was shot in the leg, and another bullet grazed her ear. Witnesses called 911 and rushed to her aid. None saw the shooting, but they watched as West tried to revive her son using CPR. "No, the baby's not breathing," one caller told a 911 operator.
Police say Elkins' alleged accomplice, 15-year-old Dominique Lang, has told investigators that Elkins fired the gun. Lang also is charged as an adult with murder but will be tried later. He's expected to be a key witness against Elkins.
Both prosecutors and Elkins' defense attorneys declined to comment before the trial, citing a gag order by the judge. The boy's mother also declined to talk.
Kevin Gough, a public defender who is Elkins' lead attorney, has strongly suggested in pretrial motions that the real killers are the child's own parents.
Defense attorneys also point to lab tests by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that found traces of gunshot residue on swabs taken from the hands of West and the boy's father, Louis Santiago. Reports filed in court say the GBI found a single microscopic particle of gunshot residue swabbed from the father's hands, while more than five particles showed up in swabs from West's hands.