A sketch of a swastika found in a suspected Baton Rouge serial killer's holding cell won't be used at the upcoming trial of the White man accused of killing two Black men and firing into a Black family's home in three September 2017 shootings, a prosecutor reluctantly told a judge Wednesday.

East Baton Rouge Parish Assistant District Attorney Dana Cummings added, however, that Kenneth Gleason's phone records contain repeated references to Adolf Hitler and "cleansing," and she said those records will be put before the jury.

Gleason's attorney, Ashly Van Earl, had filed a motion Monday asking that the swastika sketch found in Gleason's cell in 2017 not be allowed into evidence at the trial due to its prejudicial effect, and because prosecutors only turned over the actual artwork to the defense last month. The sketch was mentioned in a 2017 police report. 

"The paper seized from Mr. Gleason's cell contains a sketch of a swastika which is historically associated with the NAZI Party of Germany (1932-1945.) This is merely a sketch," Earl wrote. "He is not charged with a hate crime, and as such (it) should be prohibited from being placed before the trier of the facts as it is highly prejudicial and would cast your Accused as a racist. This would divert the attention of the jury from its true calling — deciding the facts of the case."

Earl told state District Judge Beau Higginbotham during Wednesday's hearing that Gleason took a class in German while at LSU.

Cummings explained that the swastika sketch had been accidentally misfiled, and when Earl asked for it, investigators searched for it and located it.

In the end, the prosecutor decided out of an abundance of caution that she would not use the sketch in her case so that the trial, scheduled to start next Monday with jury selection, would not be delayed by any last-minute appeals.

"We're pleasantly surprised by the state's stipulation," Earl said after court.

The Associated Press reported in September 2017 that law enforcement found a copy of a Hitler speech during a search of Gleason's home. The wire service attributed that information to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing at the time.

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Gleason, 27, is charged with second-degree murder in the Sept. 12, 2017, slaying of Bruce Cofield and first-degree murder in the Sept. 14, 2017, killing of Donald Smart.

Gleason also is charged with two counts of attempted second-degree murder stemming from a Sept. 11, 2017, incident in which he allegedly fired several shots into the home of the only Black family on the Sandy Ridge Drive block where he lived with his parents. Two men were inside but not injured.

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

Cofield, 59, was shot as he sat at a bus stop on Florida Street near South Acadian Thruway. Smart, 49, was killed at the Alaska Street BREC park while walking to his overnight shift at Louie's Cafe.

Gleason is linked to Cofield's killing and the nonfatal shooting through DNA evidence, and to both fatal shootings and the nonfatal incident through ballistics evidence, authorities have said.

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

Gleason would be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder. Second-degree murder also carries a penalty of life imprisonment.


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