Authorities have arrested Kenneth Gleason in connection with the murders of two Black men in Baton Rouge, La., which police speculate may have been racially motivated.
Baton Rouge Interim Police Chief Jonny Dunnam said the gruesome crimes were “brutal murders” that likely would have continued had Gleason not been arrested.
“Had there not been a swift conclusion to this case, I feel confident this killer probably would’ve killed again. He could’ve potentially created a terror in the fabric that holds this community together,” Dunnam said.
Upon searching Gleason’s home over the weekend authorities found a copy of an Adolf Hitler speech, according to an anonymous law enforcement official who spoke with the Associated Press.
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore also said Gleason has been connected to a shooting on Sept. 11 that took place on Gleason’s street. He fired several shots into the home of a Black family. Two people were in the home at the time but no one was injured.
Shell casings from the scenes of Cofield and Smart were first linked together following ballistics testing.
“This is extremely unusual to actually receive and find DNA on expended shell casings is something that just doesn’t happen across the nation,” Hillar said, calling it “a credit to the men and women of the police department” for their careful handling of evidence.
Gleason is being charged with counts including first degree murder and attempted first degree murder.
A spokesperson for the Baton Rouge Police Department initially said it’s likely that the crimes were racially motivated. According to CBS affiliate WAFB, “Sgt. L’Jean McKneely, a spokesman with BRPD, says detectives still believe the crimes were racially motivated, but the investigation is ongoing to determine that for sure.”
Gleason was arrested over the weekend on unrelated drug charges but police did not have enough evidence to hold him on potential murder charges. He posted bond and was released late Sunday. On Monday he was arrested again for stealing a copy of “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” from a bookstore the week before. On Tuesday afternoon he posted $500 bond, according to The Advocate. Later that day he was charged with two counts of murder in the first degree in the deaths of Cofield and Smart.
The petty theft of the book incidentally played a role in linking Gleason to the crimes. One of law enforcement’s leads in identifying the suspect in the murders and the attempted murders was a white man in a red car. Police received the same description of the person who stole the book.
“Baton Rouge has been through a lot of turmoil in the last year,” Dunnam, the police chief, said.
Notably, the community has experienced a lot of racial tensions. Last July the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by a police officer shook the city. Authorities confronted Sterling, 37, for selling CDs in a parking lot outside a convenience store. Police were responding to calls that a man in a red shirt was threatening people with a gun in the parking lot. A loaded gun was later discovered in Sterling’s pocket, but Abdullah Muflahi, the owner of the convenience store, said Sterling was not the person police were looking for.
Earlier this year the Department of Justice stated it would not file charges against the officers involved. Louisiana State Attorney General Jeff Landry announced a state investigation would take place upon the release of the Justice Department’s evidence.