A prosecutor announced Wednesday she won’t pursue the death penalty against a 24-year-old Baton Rouge man accused in the apparently random killings of two black men in shootings just two days apart last September.

Kenneth James Gleason, who is white, is charged with second-degree murder in the Sept. 12 slaying of 59-year-old Bruce Cofield and first-degree murder in the Sept. 14 killing of 49-year-old Donald Smart. Gleason would face a mandatory life prison sentence if convicted on either murder charge.

State District Judge Beau Higginbotham set a March 11 trial date.

“We will be ready to go,” East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Dana Cummings told the judge.

Gleason’s attorney, Chris Alexander, expressed the same sentiment after the hearing ended.

“We will be ready to go. And we will hold the government to every inch of its burden,” he said.

Louisiana law allows for a first-degree murder charge, which carries a possible death sentence, when there are multiple slayings.

Cummings told Higginbotham she consulted with Smart's family and that it agreed with the decision to not seek the death penalty. Prosecuting a capital murder case, obtaining a death sentence and ensuring it is carried out can be difficult tasks.

“Frankly it is clear that it takes many, many years and it is a hardship on the family,” Cummings said.

The prosecutor said the Smart family’s religious beliefs were taken into account as well.

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Gleason also is charged with two counts of attempted second-degree murder that accuse him of firing a gun that same week into the home of the only black family on the block where he lived on Sandy Ridge Drive. Two people were in the house at the time but weren't injured.

Cofield was fatally shot on the side of Florida Street; Smart was shot to death as he walked on Alaska Street to his overnight shift at Louie's Cafe.

Police have described the nighttime shootings as random and possibly racially motivated. Gleason shot both men from inside his car, then got out and continued to fire while standing over them, authorities have said.

Cummings said she will try the first-degree murder case first, but would like to consolidate the two cases if the defense agrees.

District Attorney Hillar Moore III has said DNA, surveillance videos, ballistics analysis and other evidence link Gleason to the crimes. A gun hasn’t been recovered, but Moore said records show Gleason bought a 9 mm handgun in November 2016.

Cofield’s attack was connected to Smart’s slaying and the Sandy Ridge Drive shooting through ballistics evidence found at the scenes, the district attorney has said. Different kinds of ammunition were used in the incidents, he said, but the analysis shows the bullets came from the same 9 mm gun.

Gleason has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.


Follow Joe Gyan Jr. on Twitter, @JoeGyanJr.