Nine hours before Kenneth Gleason allegedly killed the first of two Black men he's accused of fatally shooting in September 2017, surveillance video captured him driving his red car into a Baton Rouge parking lot, removing the license plate and placing tape over the vehicle's identifying markings.

The Custom Security Systems video from the early afternoon of Sept. 12, 2017, was shown Tuesday to an East Baton Rouge Parish jury in Gleason's first-degree murder trial, which is in its second week.

A former Custom Security employee testified she was sitting near the front door of the business in Oak Villa near Cortana Mall when she noticed a red car, a Ford Focus, pull into the front parking lot. She said she watched as the driver, a White male, got out and removed the license plate from the four-door car, then covered over identifying markings.

The video shows Gleason in the parking lot for about six minutes, at times glancing at other vehicles as they passed by in the street.

The employee said she reported the suspicious activity to her supervisors.

Courtney Rushing, the company's manager, testified she contacted police that same day after viewing the video, but police did not immediately respond.

Three days later, after both Bruce Cofield and Donald Smart had been shot to death, Rushing said she read an article in The Advocate about the search for a White male driving a red car and decided to call police again, telling them the man in the video may be the person for whom they were searching.

Police responded to the business that same day — Sept. 15, 2017 — and retrieved the video. Based on further descriptions of Gleason and the red car that were gleaned from the video, police detained him the following day driving that same car. The license plate was back on the car. He was ultimately booked in the killings on Sept. 19, 2017.

The car had the same dent in the back bumper and an American flag sticker shown on the Custom Security surveillance video, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said previously.

Cofield, a 59-year-old homeless man, was killed the night of Sept. 12, 2017, at a bus stop near the intersection of Florida Boulevard and South Acadian Thruway. Smart, 49, was slain two nights later on Alaska Street in front of BREC's Alaska Street Park as he was walking to his overnight shift at Louie's Cafè near the north side of LSU's campus.

Gleason, 27, also is accused of firing shots on Sept. 11, 2017, into the home of the only Black family on the block where he lived with his parents in the Hickory Ridge subdivision off Coursey Boulevard.

He's charged with first-degree murder in Smart's killing, second-degree murder in Cofield's slaying, and two counts of attempted second-degree murder in the nonfatal shooting on Sandy Ridge Drive.

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Gleason is standing trial only in Smart's killing, but evidence from the Cofield homicide and the nonfatal shooting also is being introduced at the trial. He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted as charged in Smart's death. The verdict must be unanimous.

Prosecutors chose not to pursue the death penalty after consulting with Smart's family.

In other testimony Tuesday, Saundra Watts, a Baton Rouge police detective, said the Smart and Cofield killings were "strikingly similar" in that witnesses reported a White man in a red car fired shots at both victims, then got out and fired additional shots at the victims.

Police Cpl. Kerry Hidalgo said 10 shell casings were found at the Smart crime scene.

Officer Raymond Taylor said he was at a traffic light at Airline and Old Hammond highways on Sept. 16, 2017, when he spotted Gleason's car. He radioed that he found the vehicle, and then followed it until other police units arrived.

Gleason was detained at the Hammond Aire Plaza shopping center, police Sgt. Robert Cook testified.

Authorities have said the three nighttime shootings were apparently random and possibly racially motivated.

They also said Gleason is linked to Cofield's killing and the nonfatal shooting through DNA evidence, and to both deadly shootings and the nonfatal incident through ballistics evidence.

Cook acknowledged Tuesday under intense questioning from Jarrett Ambeau, one of Gleason's attorneys, that the initial arrest warrant he submitted to a state judge on Sept. 19, 2017, incorrectly stated that Gleason was linked to the Smart slaying through DNA evidence. Cook said he notified the judge of the error, amended the warrant and put it into Gleason's booking records.

The Louisiana State Police Crime Lab determined that casings recovered from all three shooting scenes were fired from the same 9 mm gun, but the weapon has never been found.

Gleason is not charged with a hate crime, but prosecutors have said his cellphone records, which will be used at the trial, contained repeated references to Adolf Hitler and "cleansing."

Gleason's lawyers have said he studied German at LSU. He attended the university for one year starting in the fall of 2012.


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