Trial to start for white man accused of killing Black men

Local News

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A trial is scheduled to begin Monday on murder charges for a Louisiana white man accused of killing two Black men and shooting into the home of another Black family.

Jury selection will begin in the trial of 27-year-old Kenneth Gleason in Baton Rouge, with The Advocate reporting possible evidence including repeated references that Gleason made to Adolf Hitler and cleansing.

Monday’s trial will be for murder charges in the Sept. 14, 2017, shooting death of Donald Smart. Prosecutors say Gleason shot the 49-year-old Smart in a park near Louisiana State University as Smart was walking to his overnight shift as a restaurant dishwasher.

Gleason faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted. Prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty after talking to Smart’s family.

A second murder charge accuses Gleason of shooting and killing 59-year-old Bruce Cofield as he sat at a bus stop on a busy Baton Rouge street.

Gleason also faces attempted murder charges for shooting through the door of a Black family that lived on the same suburban street where he lived on Sept. 11, 2017.

Gleason is not charged with a hate crime, but prosecutor Dana Cummings said last week during a hearing that cellphone evidence will be introduced with references to Hitler.

A sketch of a swastika was found in Gleason’s holding cell in 2017, but Cummings said the drawing won’t be shown to the jury because it had been misfiled in the case record and was only recently handed over to the defense.

Law enforcement told The Associated Press in 2017 that officers found a copy of a Hitler speech during a search of Gleason’s home.

The trial is expected to last two weeks, including several days of jury selection. State District Judge Beau Higginbotham will preside over the trial.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Friday that “justice will prevail.”

“We are prepared to present the state’s case against Mr. Gleason and bring justice and closure to the families who have been tragically affected,” he added.

Gleason’s attorney, Ashly Van Earl, said his client maintains his innocence.

“I believe the state has a heavy burden in this case, and this will be a great judge of whether you’re innocent until proven guilty,” Earl said.

Two LSU students in the park at the time of the Smart shooting told police a man drove up in a red car and shot Smart. The shooter then got out of his car, walked over and kept shooting. Four bullets were taken from Smart’s body, Detective Saundra Watts testified at a 2019 hearing, and 10 shell casings were found.

A witness told police that a white man got out of his car and shot Cofield, who then rolled into the street, Watts testified. The shooter then stood over Cofield and fired more shots, she said, with 10 bullets were recovered from the victim’s body, and 13 shell casings found.

Gleason was indicted on two counts of attempted second-degree murder in the Sept. 11, 2017, shooting in which he allegedly fired several shots into the home of the only Black family on the suburban block where he lived with his parents. Two men were inside the house but not injured.

A sheriff’s detective testified that an oil change store employee identified Gleason as the man in a red car he saw remove a gun from a landscaped area hours after the Sept. 11 shooting.

The Louisiana State Police Crime Lab found that casings recovered from all three shootings were fired from the same 9 mm gun. No gun has been found.

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