Archived: Race Likely Motivated Two Murders in Baton Rouge, Police Say

UPDATE: 2:20 P.M.

Kenneth Gleason has been arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder in relation to the deaths of Bruce Cofield and Ronald Smart. He was also charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder in an unrelated shooting. According to the Advocate, the other shooting took place at the home of a Black family.Baton Rouge Interim Police Chief Jonny Dunnam described the murders as “brutal” at a Tuesday news conference, adding that Gleason likely would have killed again had he not been apprehended.

Original story continues below:

Two Black men in Baton Rouge, La., may have been shot because of the color of their skin, according to police.

“The victims were ambushed,” Baton Rouge police spokesman Sgt. L’Jean McKneely told the Associated Press. “There is a strong possibility that it could be racially motivated.”

The first shooting took place on Sept. 12 at around 10:30 p.m. The victim, 59-year-old Bruce Cofield, was shot multiple times. Cofield, who was homeless, died at the scene.

Two days later and just a few miles away, Ronald Smart was gunned down while walking to work around 11:00 p.m. Like Cofield, Smart was found with multiple gunshot wounds. The 49-year-old died at the scene as well.

More than half of Baton Rouge’s population is Black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Kenneth Gleason has been identified as a person of interest in the killings. He was arrested over the weekend on unrelated drug charges and was being held on $3,500 bond. Police do not have enough evidence to charge him with the murders, though, and Gleason was released from jail late Sunday. Sgt. Don Coppola, another spokesperson for the Baton Rouge Police Department, told the AP Gleason “has not been cleared” and is still “a person of interest.”

“This investigation is ongoing, Gleason is still a person of interest, and through the investigation, if it is learned that there is any other individual or individuals who could be other persons of interest, investigators will look into them as well,” Coppola said to ABC News.

Ballistic tests showed that the same gun was used in both killings, according to the Advocate.

“McKneely said shell casings from each killing matched and a car belonging to Gleason fit the description of the vehicle police were looking for,” the publication reported. “He said police have collected other circumstantial evidence but he wouldn’t say what it was because the investigation is ongoing.”

Fred Simonson, Smart’s manager at the caf where he worked as a dishwasher, told the Washington Post that the diner closed for a little while the night after the shooting. Smart had worked there “for at least 20 years,” the Post reported.

“It’s an entry-level job. He was not an entry-level guy. He’s not replaceable,” he told the Post. “He was a tremendously hard-working, one-of-a-kind guy.”

Smart’s niece, Ariel Smart, told WAFB that her uncle left behind a wife and three children.

“He was a good man; he had kids to live for, too,” she told the outlet. “He didn’t deserve to die like he did because he had a family that loved him. And he had a job, you know. He wasn’t out here robbing people, scheming on people. He was just trying to go to work. He wasn’t bothering nobody. And then to leave him in the middle of the street like a dog, that’s just too much.”

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