Alleged serial killer Kenneth Gleason was “hunting random Black men” during his four-day “reign of terror” in Baton Rouge in September 2017, a prosecutor told jurors Monday at the conclusion of Gleason’s murder trial.
But one of Gleason’s attorneys argued to the East Baton Rouge Parish jury that prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Gleason, now 27, was behind the slayings of Donald Smart, 49, and Bruce Cofield, 59. Both men were Black.
Gleason, who is White, is charged with first-degree murder in the fatal Sept. 14, 2017, shooting of Smart, who was walking along Alaska Street just north of the LSU campus to his overnight shift at Louie’s Café. But, to convict Gleason on that charge, the jury also must find that he fatally shot Cofield two days earlier on Sept. 12, 2017, as he sat at a bus stop near the intersection of Florida Boulevard and South Acadian Thruway.
Assistant District Attorney Dana Cummings said in her closing argument that the two killings and a non-fatal shooting on Sept. 11, 2017 — several doors down from Gleason’s home on Sandy Ridge Drive in the Hickory Ridge subdivision — were all linked by ballistics, and that Cofield’s killing and the non-fatal shooting were linked to Gleason through DNA evidence left on shell casings recovered at those scenes.
A total of 26 9 mm shell casings were found at the three shooting scenes.
Cummings said Gleason used hollow-point bullets “that would do the utmost damage.”
“He was out hunting random Black men,” she said.
The prosecutor recounted witness testimony that Gleason retrieved a gun from a flower bed at a Jiffy Lube on Coursey Boulevard in broad daylight about nine hours after the Sandy Ridge shooting, and that he removed the license plate from his red Ford Focus and used duct tape to cover up the car’s distinguishing markings – also in broad daylight -- about nine hours before Cofield was killed.
“I believe he thinks he’s so intelligent he’s going to toy with police,” she said of the former Eagle Scout and Baton Rouge High School graduate. “Is this a game to him? Are these men expendable?”
In both slayings, Gleason was accused of shooting his victims from his car and then getting out, standing over them and firing more bullets, Cummings said.
The murder weapon was never found, but the prosecutor said that is because Gleason “was in control” of the evidence. She reminded jurors that Gleason bought a 9 mm gun in November 2016 and applied to buy a silencer in July 2017.
The day before the Sandy Ridge shooting, Cummings said Gleason searched the internet for “how to make a suppressor out of a Maglite,” and the morning after Cofield was gunned down, Gleason searched for “define murder.” The day after Smart’s slaying, Gleason further searched for “serial killer,” she said.
One of Gleason’s lawyers, Ashly Earl, told the jury in his closing argument that Smart and Cofield “didn’t deserve their fates.” But he said prosecutors did not prove that Gleason was the triggerman in either killing. He acknowledged that Gleason legally purchased a 9 mm.
One eyewitness testified more than a week ago at the trial that Gleason is not the man he saw at the Cofield scene, Earl reminded the jury.
“They have not done their job, y’all,” he said.
Cummings said Monday that witness has “zero credibility,”
Earl said no eyewitness identified Gleason as the triggerman in either slaying, no fingerprints were found at the scenes and no evidence was found in his car.
“He gets the benefit of the doubt,” Earl said. “The state has failed to do their job. They have not proven their case.”
Prosecutors rested their case Monday morning after calling more than 50 witnesses since April 15. The defense called five witnesses, four of whom had previously testified for the state.
Before the defense began calling witnesses, state District Judge Beau Higginbotham asked Gleason if he intended to take the stand in his own defense.
“I would like to not testify,” Gleason replied, with the jury not in the courtroom.
He faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted of first-degree murder. Prosecutors decided against seeking the death penalty after consulting with Smart's family.
The verdict must be unanimous.
Gleason was indicted on a second-degree murder charge in the Cofield slaying, and two counts of attempted second-degree murder in the non-fatal shooting in which he's accused of firing three shots into the home of a Black family on his street, Sandy Ridge Drive.
He was not charged with a hate crime, but an FBI agent testified last week that Gleason searched the internet between Sept. 1 and Sept. 16, 2017, for topics such as White nationalism, genocide and Nazi propaganda.
Gleason's lawyers have said he studied German at LSU. He attended the university for one year starting in the fall of 2012