Convicted Baton Rouge serial killer Kenneth Gleason, who was accused of fatally shooting two Black men and firing into the home of a Black family over a four-day span in 2017, was handed a mandatory life prison term Monday by a judge who said the "appropriate sentence" would have been the death penalty.

"There's nothing the penal system can do to rehabilitate you, Mr. Gleason," state District Judge Beau Higginbotham said moments before imposing a life sentence on Gleason, 27.

Gleason, who is White, was found guilty in April of first-degree murder in the 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 the first-degree murder charge, which can be brought when there are multiple killings, the jury also had to find that he also 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.

East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors decided against seeking the death penalty after consulting with Smart's family, meaning the only sentence that could be imposed on a first-degree murder conviction was a mandatory life term.

Evidence also was presented at Gleason's trial that he fired three shots into the home of a Black family on his street in the Hickory Ridge subdivision off Coursey Boulevard.

Higginbotham had ordered a presentence investigation after Gleason's conviction, and in that report Gleason wrote, "I am innocent of the crime I have been accused of," the judge noted.

One of Smart's sisters, Renee McCoy, gave a heartfelt victim impact statement in court and noted that Monday would have have been her only brother's 53rd birthday.

"Happy birthday!" she said.

McCoy also said her family has forgiven Gleason and added, "We just ask that you try Jesus."

"To know Don was to love him," she said. "He never met a stranger. He was our protector."

McCoy said the life sentence will prevent Gleason "from committing this heinous crime again."

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Vincent Cofield described Gleason as "depraved and remorseless" and said his brother's slaying was "reprehensible" in a victim impact statement read in court by their sister, Lydia McGee.

Bruce Cofield graduated from Southern University in 1980 with a mechanical engineering degree and worked for a time as a research engineer in Illinois before returning to Louisiana, where he got married and had two children, his brother said. He worked at Fort Polk for eight years.

Despite his battles with drugs and depression, Bruce Cofield was a " very valued member of our family," his brother wrote. "We cannot put a price on our physical and emotional loss."

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said after court that his office is hopeful that all of the victims' families "will be able to focus their energy on emotional healing, pleasant memories of their loved ones, and happier times to come."

Gleason did not speak at his sentencing.

"It is telling that in spite of the overwhelming evidence presented at trial, Kenneth Gleason still refuses to take responsibility for his actions and expressed no remorse for these senseless murders and hateful crimes of violence," Moore said.

Gleason was not charged with a hate crime, but an FBI agent testified at his trial 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, which he attended for one year starting in the fall of 2012.

Prosecutors said ballistics linked all three shootings. 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.

In both slayings, Gleason was accused of shooting the victims from his car and then getting out, standing over them and firing more bullets.


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