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Investigation into BR murders detailed; suspect now booked - KATC.com | Continuous News Coverage | Acadiana-Lafayette

Investigation into BR murders detailed; suspect now booked

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A team of law enforcement and crime scene technicians have worked 24 hours a day to find the person they say is responsible for two murders in Baton Rouge; the story of that investigation reads like a police thriller. 

Kenneth Gleason, 23, will be booked today with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder, Baton Rouge officials say.

His arrest on these charges stems from an unrelenting investigation by local, state and federal agencies, said East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore during a Tuesday morning press conference. To watch the presser, scroll down. 

"Over the past few days, to see the effort and collaboration of all these law enforcement agencies, it was incredible to see and experience," Moore said. "In this case, the evidence, citizen cooperation, hard police work, technology and a bit of good fortune played roles in getting us where we are today.. An incredible amount of work was done in this case very quickly." 

Gleason is accused of the shooting deaths of Bruce Cofield, 59, who was homeless, and Donald Smart, 49, of Baton Rouge. Both men were African American. Gleason also is accused of shooting a gun into a family's home a couple doors down from his own residence; no one was hurt but two people were home at the time. They are African American. 

Police say they're not going to narrow their focus to motive right now, because there's too much work to do to build their case against Gleason - and also to ensure there are no other connected crimes. 

Moore did say that his office is definitely considering this as a potential death penalty case.

"This is truly a potential death penalty case. These crimes were cold, calculated and appear to be planned. These victims were unarmed and defenseless," Moore said. "I don't know what his motive is, but we don't need to prove motive. At this point, surely the death penalty is one that will be strongly considered. But I have to speak to the family members. It's strongly being considered, but I want to speak to the victims' families."

Moore said it is doubtful he will use hate crime statutes against Gleason; legally a charge can only be enhanced once, and he said he's considering the death penalty right now. 

Moore broke down the mutli-agency investigation with this timeline: 

In November 2016, Gleason allegedly purchased a 9-mm pistol in Baton Rouge. He also bought some Browning ammunition at that time.

In July 2017, he bought a silencer. It takes several months to obtain such an item, Moore said, so Gleason had not received it yet. 

In August 2017, Gleason successfully completed his application for a conceal carry permit. He had not received it yet, Moore said. 

On September 11, a home on Sandy Ridge Drive, a couple doors down from where Gleason lives, several shots were fired by a 9-mm gun into the home. Two residents were home, but weren't injured. They're both African American. The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office began investigating that crime. 

Later that day, the Sheriff's Office gets a call from an employee at a Jiffy Lube, who saw a white man in a red car hiding a gun in some bushes. Deputies searched the area but couldn't find any gun. 

On September 12, Customs Security System, a private company, calls the Baton Rouge Police to report that their security cameras caught a white man with a red car who appeared to be taking his license plate off. He also appeared to put a weapon in his trunk. The video and photos of the man and the car were saved by BRPD on a jump drive. 

That night, Cofield was killed. Witnesses and video showed a white man with a red car, who appeared to be wearing tactical gear. Forensic evidence indicates the man initially shot Cofield from his car, then got out, stood over his body, and shot him again. 

On September 13, Gleason allegedly goes into a book store and steals a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The theft is called in to the Sheriff's Office; the shoplifter is described as a white man with a red car. 

On September 14, Smart is murdered on Alaska Street. Again, video captured a red car, but it wasn't very clear. Two witnesses report seeing a white man in a red car near the scene. 

At this point, Moore says, "things are now starting to come together."

On September 15, a national ballistics network linked the ammo in the two murders to the same gun. That same day, police review the private security video of the white man in the red car, and get a very clear picture of the car, some damage to its bumper and a distinctive sticker, Moore says. 

"This point is where the Baton Rouge Police Department, the Easton Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office and Louisiana State Police work their tails off to try to find this car, and on September 16, the vehicle is spotted, it matches the description, and it is stopped and this defendant is taken into custody," Moore said. "The officer who stopped him was working for free, doing extra duty to try to find this vehicle. And he does." 

Search warrants are obtained, searches are conducted, and interviews are done with Gleason. He's booked on charges related to drugs allegedly found at his home, but on September 17 he posts bond and is released, Moore said. 

On September 18, he is arrested on the shoplifting charge. And while he's in jail, the crime scene technicians are working through the night to analyze DNA found on shell casings, and comparing it to Gleason's DNA, which was obtained via a warrant. 

"Early this morning, through the hard work of the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab, we were notified that they had processed the DNA evidence, an incredible amount of work," Moore said. "They matched the DNA taken from the shell casings found on Alaska Street to Gleason."

The lab is now working on other DNA samples, he said, and the entire investigative team is continuing their work on the case. 

The urgency and dedication the team showed in building the case against Gleason should be noted and commended, said Acting Baton Rouge Police Chief Jonny Dunnam.

"Had there not been a swift conclusion to this case, I feel confident this killer probably would have killed again," Dunnam said. "This could  have created a tear in the fabric that holds this community together, and I cannot speak highly enough of the investigators who were part of this arrest."

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