White Louisianan pleads not guilty in deaths of 2 black men

A white Louisiana man accused of shooting two black men to death and of firing into the home of a black family in three separate incidents in September has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him.

The Advocate reports that Kenneth James Gleason, 23, entered the plea Wednesday at an arraignment before state District Judge Beau Higginbotham in Baton Rouge.

A grand jury on Nov. 30 indicted Gleason on one count each of second-degree murder and first-degree murder and two counts of attempted second-degree murder in the incidents that police have described as possibly racially motivated.

Gleason is accused of killing Donald Smart, 49, on Sept. 14 and Bruce Cofield, 59, on Sept. 12.

Law enforcement officials have said they believe the two killings were random, as they have been unable to find any connections 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, but two people were in the house at the time.

Though officials have said the shootings were possibly racially motivated, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said they have yet to uncover any concrete evidence to confirm that motive.

Smart's family sat in the front two rows of the courtroom during the arraignment.

When Gleason announced his pleas, members of the 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," said Smart's sister, Tiquincia Smart. "But we will be here every court day. ... I truly believe justice will be served."

She 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, 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.

"He did not deserve to be killed and shot down like that," Flowers said, who is now raising their children, a 12- and 13-year-old girl and a 15-year-old son, alone. "Everyday I just try to be strong for my kids. ... I try not to show my tears in front of them."

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."

Moore said he has not decided if he will seek the death penalty in the case.

A trial date has not been set.


Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com