Kenneth James Gleason, a white man accused in the shooting deaths of two black men and of firing a gun into the home of a black family in three separate September incidents, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to all the charges against him.
A grand jury indicted Gleason, 23, on Nov. 30 with one count each of first-degree murder and second-degree murder and two counts of attempted second-degree murder in the incidents that police have described as possibly racially motivated.
Kenneth James Gleason, a white man who fatally shot two black men and fired into the home of a black family in three separate incidents in September, was indicted Thursday afternoon by an East Baton Rouge grand jury.
Gleason appeared Wednesday morning in a East Baton Rouge Parish Prison orange and white striped jumpsuit with both his hands and feet shackled for his arraignment before state Judge Beau Higginbotham. He showed little emotion throughout the morning's proceedings, often peering wide-eyed around the courtroom while other cases were called.
The family of 49-year-old Donald Smart, one of the two men prosecutors allege was shot and killed by Gleason, sat in the front two rows of the courtroom. Smart was shot Sept. 14 when he was walking on Alaska Street to his job at Louie's Cafe.
When Gleason announced his not guilty pleas, members of Smart's family released audible sounds of pain, his sister wiped tears from her eyes.
"I was hoping and praying he (would) plead guilty so the family wouldn't have to keep coming to court," Smart's sister Tiquincia Smart said. "But we will be here every court day. … I truly believe justice will be served."
Gleason is also accused in the Sept. 12 slaying of Bruce Cofield, 59, who was shot and killed on the side of Florida Street.
Law enforcement officials have said they believe the two killings were random, particularly because they have been unable to find any connection between Gleason and either Smart or Cofield. Both men were on the side of the road at night when they were shot. Officials have said Gleason approached them both in the same manner, shooting them first from inside his car, then exiting the vehicle and continuing to fire while standing over them.
Also that mid-September week, Gleason is accused of targeting the only black family on the block where he lived, firing from a short distance at their front door. No one was injured in that shooting, although two people were in the house at the time.
Though officials have said the shootings were possibly racially motivated, East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said they have yet to uncover any concrete evidence to confirm that motive.
Tiquincia Smart said seeing Gleason in the courtroom was emotional, bringing back the memory of her brother's killing.
"I have seen (Gleason) in pictures, but to actually see him in person, just to see the human being that took my brother's life for no apparent reason was scary in a sense. But at the same time, (I'm) relieved to know he's not on the street to hurt anyone else," she said.
The mother of Donald Smart's three children, Lakisa Flowers, said she, too, will be at every court date during Gleason's trial.
"(Donald Smart) did not deserve to be killed and shot down like that," Flowers said, who is now raising alone their three children, 12 and 13-year-old daughters and a 15-year-old son. "Everyday, I just try to be strong for my kids … I try not to show my tears in front of them."
Moore said his team continues to investigate the case and prepare for trial. He said he has not decided if he will seek the death penalty, an option that became available when he was charged with first-degree murder.
A trial date has not been set.
Attorney Chris Alexander is representing Gleason and has denied any guilt on behalf of his client.
"At this point, we're going to request any and all evidence in the state's possession and review everything closely," Alexander said after Wednesday's hearing. "Our goal is to fully and completely protect Kenneth Gleason, and we intend to do it tenaciously."
While Donald Smart's family said they know the trial is on the horizon, they said they're focused on the daily battles they face in the short term without their brother, son or children's father.
"And now, it's the holiday time, and it's just not the same," Tiquincia Smart said. "It's really emotional."
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