Kenneth Gleason

Kenneth Gleason

Jurors found alleged serial killer Kenneth Gleason guilty of first-degree murder Monday in one of three incidents in which he is accused of killing or shooting at Black Baton Rouge residents.

Gleason, who is White, was accused of fatally shooting two Black men and firing into the home of a Black family on his street in the Hickory Ridge subdivision off Coursey Boulevard — all over a four-day period in September 2017.

The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for about a half hour.

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Gleason was charged with first-degree murder in the fatal Sept. 14, 2017, shooting of Donald Smart, 49, as he walked 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 had to find that he fatally shot Bruce Cofield, 59, two days earlier, as Cofield sat at a bus stop near the intersection of Florida Boulevard and South Acadian Thruway.

Gleason also was indicted on 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 faces a mandatory life sentence, which the judge is set to hand down on Aug. 23.

Prosecutors decided against seeking the death penalty after consulting with Smart's family. 

When asked what might have happened had Gleason not been arrested when he was, prosecutor Dana Cummings said: "I don't even want to think about that. He didn't get that opportunity, thanks to the police work."

Gleason was not charged with a hate crime, but an FBI agent testified last week that the defendant 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, which he attended for one year starting in the fall of 2012.

Cummings said in her closing argument that ballistics linked all three shootings. She also said DNA left on shell casings recovered from the scenes of Cofield’s killing and the non-fatal shooting linked those two cases.

Twenty-six 9mm shell casings were found at the three shooting scenes.

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Cummings said Gleason used hollow-point bullets “that would do the utmost damage.”

“He was out hunting random Black men,” she said.

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Cummings said after the verdict that the DNA and ballistic evidence was too strong for the defense to dispute.

Jarrett Ambeau, an attorney for Gleason, said jurors told the parties afterward that they felt the DNA and ballistics proof was very strong.

"Forensic science evidence is very difficult to overcome," he 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 the victims from his car and then getting out, standing over them and firing more bullets, Cummings noted.

The murder weapon was never found, but the prosecutor said that's because Gleason “was in control” of the evidence. She reminded jurors that Gleason bought a 9mm gun in November 2016 and applied to buy a silencer in July the following year.

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 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.”

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 the eyewitness has “zero credibility.” 

Gleason's family hugged and cried after the verdict was announced. They sat in the front row, right behind Gleason and his attorneys.

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Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.