In the trial of a White man accused of targeting and fatally shooting two Black men in a streak of fall 2017 shootings, prosecutors on Saturday spent much of their focus on linking the getaway car and differing witness accounts to one of two fatal shootings of Black men in 2017.
While not charged with a hate crime, Kenneth Gleason, 27, is accused in a series of shooting targeting Black people in what prosecutors described as “a four-day streak of terror” that began when he allegedly fired into a family’s home not far from his parents' house before gunning down a homeless man at a Florida Street bus stop and another man who was walking to work.
He’s on trial on a first-degree murder charge in the death of Donald Smart, 49, a longtime Louie’s restaurant employee who died while walking to work just north of the LSU campus. The trial opened Monday with jury selection and shifted into testimony Thursday.
While the trial only concerns Smart’s death, prosecutors have been allowed to present evidence in the other shootings, which they say demonstrates a pattern. Gleason allegedly shot into a home on Sandy Ridge Drive on Sept. 11, 2017, a few doors down from where he had been living with his parents. Just days later, authorities say, he shot 59-year-old Bruce Cofield at a Florida Street bus stop near North Acadian Thruway.
Saturday’s testimony follows a series of, at times, emotional witness accounts, including a CATS bus driver who teared up Friday as she recalled seeing Cofield as a regular rider and person in the area.
She and others testified to hearing Cofield scream as gunshots rang out, and as he was laying in the street, the shooter stood over him and continued firing.
East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. William “Beau” Clark said Saturday that an autopsy found 15 bullet wounds struck Cofield.
But one witness who testified Friday departed from others’ accounts and described the shooter as being heavier than Gleason. Jacques Landry, who owned the salon Posh Chic in the nearby strip mall, said he saw parts of the shooting.
Days after Gleason’s arrest, he called detectives to tell them he wasn’t the shooter. “It wasn’t him,” Landry said Friday while pointing to Gleason at the defense table.
Surveillance video inside the salon showed Landry with a client when the gunfire drew his attention. The footage shows him look out the business’ door briefly before running to the back with a client. Prosecutors also showed a red car drive past the business several minutes before Landry returned from the back to look out the front door window again.
Defense attorneys on Saturday also drew attention to choppy surveillance footage taken from a nearby gas station that skipped ahead a few minutes during the shooting.
No other witnesses have said they saw the shooter return to a red car with missing hub caps, which may be an essential part of the government’s case.
Prosecutors say they plan to show surveillance footage showing Gleason remove his license plate and mask over other parts of the car with tape. They also lean heavily on DNA records and “incriminating” activity on Gleason’s phone that showed him searching for information about the shootings before his arrest. So far, they have yet to present any of that material at trial.
Prosecutors have said they would introduce cellphone records they say show "repeated references" to Adolf Hitler and ethnic cleansing. The Associated Press reported around the time of Gleason's arrest that police found a copy of a Hitler speech at Gleason's home.
The judge has barred prosecutors from telling jurors about a swastika drawing found in Gleason's jail cell because that information wasn't disclosed to defense lawyers promptly.
If convicted by a unanimous jury, Gleason faces life in prison. Prosecutors dropped the death penalty as an option after speaking to Smart's family.
The trial is set to continue Monday morning.