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At the Violent Crime Unit, Kenneth Gleason is arrested in two killings Tuesday Sept. 19, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La..

About a month after he was sentenced to life without parole for the killings of two Black men, convicted Baton Rouge serial killer Kenneth Gleason killed himself shortly after his transfer to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, prison officials say.

A Department of Corrections spokesman said Gleason "committed suicide at the prison around midnight Wednesday. While making routine rounds, correctional officers discovered Gleason unresponsive and hanging in his cell."

Gleason was a newcomer to Angola, the notorious maximum security prison in West Feliciana Parish that houses thousands of men serving life and other extremely long sentences. Officials said Gleason was transferred there on Monday, less than two days before his death.

He was alone in a cell, being quarantined for 14 days per protocols for new inmates, DOC spokesman Ken Pastorick said. The DOC and local law enforcement are investigating the case, and Pastorick declined to release any other details.

The West Feliciana coroner was notified of the death, but officials are awaiting an autopsy to release more information, said Jim Groody, chief investigator for the coroner. He said an autopsy will be scheduled in the coming days.

Jarrett Ambeau, an attorney representing Gleason, said DOC officials called the Gleason family earlier Wednesday and said he may have died from a heart attack — a notion Ambeau adamantly disputed from the beginning, though the official narrative later shifted to suicide.

"That sounds to me like they're lying," Ambeau said shortly after learning of Gleason's death. "We need to see if this is a cover up or what." 

DOC officials later issued a news release calling the death a suicide.

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Gleason, 27, was arrested in 2017 and accused of fatally shooting two Black men, apparently at random, and shooting into the house of another Black family down the street from his childhood home. 

Gleason was never charged with a hate crime, but an FBI agent testified that the young White man searched the internet for topics such as White nationalism, genocide and Nazi propaganda in the days and weeks leading up to the killings.

He was convicted of first-degree murder and recently sentenced to life without parole. At his sentencing, East Baton Rouge District Judge Beau Higginbotham said Gleason's execution would have been an "appropriate sentence." The judge told Gleason "there's nothing the penal system can do to rehabilitate you."

East Baton Rouge prosecutors had considered seeking the death penalty against Gleason, but decided not to after consulting with the family of Donald Smart, who was gunned down while walking along Alaska Street just north of LSU campus the evening of Sept. 14, 2017. Smart was headed to work at Louie's Café. 

Two days earlier, Bruce Cofield was shot and killed while sitting at a bus stop near the intersection of Florida Boulevard and South Acadian Thruway. To convict Gleason of first-degree murder, the jurors had to also find Gleason responsible for Cofield's death.

Detectives found no evidence that Gleason was acquainted with either of his victims before he pulled the trigger. In both slayings, he was accused of shooting the victims from his car and then getting out, standing over them and firing more bullets.

During his trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Gleason also fired three shots into the home of a Black family on his street in the Hickory Ridge subdivision off Coursey Boulevard. No one was injured in that incident, which occurred around the same time.

Details were not immediately available Wednesday about where Gleason was being housed before his recent transfer to Angola.


Email Lea Skene at lskene@theadvocate.com.