Police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, have arrested a suspect in the fatal ambushes of two black pedestrians last week. Police said they had matched DNA from the alleged shooter, 23-year-old Kenneth Gleason, who is white, to shell casings at the two homicide scenes. Gleason was also charged on Tuesday morning with attempted murder for opening fire on a third person’s home.
Sgt. L’Jean McNeely, a spokesperson for the Baton Rouge Police, said over the weekend that investigators were looking at the killings as a bias attack, telling the Associated Press, “There is a strong possibility that it could be racially motivated.” At a press briefing on Tuesday, McNeely offered no new details on whether race played a factor in the killings, saying only, “We’re not completely closed to that. We’re looking at all possibilities at this time.”
The first victim, 59-year-old Bruce Cofield, was shot at around 11 p.m. last Tuesday night near Baton Rouge General Medical Center, just east of downtown, by an assailant who opened fire from a car. The driver got out and fired several more times, leaving Cofield to die in the street.
Maria Johnson, who lives nearby, said she heard 12 gunshots. She told the Advocate that Cofield was known around the area as “Mr. Bruce” and “didn’t bother anyone. It’s senseless.”
Two nights later, Donald Smart, 49, was gunned down while walking to Louie’s Cafe near the campus of Louisiana State University, where he was about to start the night shift as a dishwasher. Police said Smart was shot a total of 10 times, first from a car, then at close range.
Smart was a married father of three and worked at the cafe alongside two of his cousins. Co-workers remembered him as a tireless worker who somehow managed to keep his white T-shirt and Nikes spotless.
“I’ve seen 26 years of folks washing dishes in a busy diner, and this guy is untouchable,” Smart’s manager said. “This isn’t, like, just some dude. I will love that man until they day I die.”
Gleason was also booked on charges of attempted murder for firing three times into a neighbor’s home on September 11, the day before Cofield’s murder. No one was injured in that shooting.
Working from a description of Gleason’s car, police detained him for questioning on Saturday. After cops found marijuana and human-growth hormone in his home, he was arrested and charged with drug possession, then released the following night after posting a $3,500 bond. On Monday, Gleason was back in a holding cell, this time for stealing a book from a bookstore. He made bond again on Tuesday morning — just before police arrested him on the murder charges.
As Gleason cycled in and out of jail, analysts at the Louisiana State Police crime lab worked around the clock to process the DNA from the shell casings that allegedly linked him to the crime scenes, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore said at Tuesday’s press conference.
Gleason’s 9mm was legally purchased in Baton Rouge last November. This July, he went to another gun dealer to make a different acquisition, filling out the paperwork for a gun suppressor, or silencer.
A bill pending in the U.S. House of Representatives would remove many of the stiff restrictions currently imposed on silencer sales. Under the existing regulations, people must go through a lengthy vetting before a silencer purchase is given the green light by the federal government.
At the time of his arrest, Gleason was still waiting for his silencer to come through.
“It was on order,” Moore said. “It takes several months for that to come in. It did not come in, thankfully.”