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Kenneth Gleason, 23 pictured in this handout booking photo. Photo by East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office

White Louisiana man charged with murder in separate killings of black men in Baton Rouge

Baton Rouge authorities said Tuesday a white Louisiana man will be charged with first-degree murder in the separate slayings of two black men last week.

Kenneth James Gleason, 23, was initially detained on drug charges Saturday, but was released Sunday after he posted bond. Police announced that they had enough evidence Tuesday to charge Gleason with first-degree murder, saying they believed he fatally shot Donald Smart, 49, and Bruce Cofield, 59, two days apart.

Police said last week’s killings, which happened miles from each other, have also been linked to a third shooting, an attack on the home of a black family. Nobody was killed in that attack.

When asked Tuesday whether race was a factor in the shootings, Baton Rouge Police Sgt. L’Jean McKneely said investigators were “not completely closed off to that. We’re looking at all possibilities at the time, so we’re not going to just pinpoint that.”

On Sunday, the sergeant said there’s “a strong possibility that it could be racially motivated.”

A law enforcement official, under the condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that investigators recovered a copy of an Adolf Hitler speech at Gleason’s home.

A week ago, a gunman fatally shot Cofield, who is thought to be homeless. Two days later, Smart was shot and killed while walking to his job as a dishwasher at a cafe near Louisiana State University. Both shootings were within five miles of each other.

In both cases, police said Gleason, who they believe to be the gunman, fired his weapon from his vehicle. He then exited his car and walked to the victims on the ground, firing his weapon several more times. Shell casings found at the scenes and witness IDs of the car led police to believe that the incidents were connected.

Police do not think Gleason knew either of his victims, although it’s not immediately clear at this point in the investigation.

Over the weekend, authorities searched Gleason’s home and found nine grams of marijuana, the AP reported.

“Baton Rouge has been through a lot of turmoil in the last year. Has there not been a swift conclusion to this case, I feel confident that this killer probably would have killed again,” interim Police Chief Jonny Dunnam said. “He could have potentially created a tear in the fabric that holds this community together.”

Unrest in the city reached a peak in 2016 after white police officers shot and killed Alton Sterling, a black man, outside a convenience store. The shooting death of Sterling prompted days of protests.

Nearly two weeks later, a black gunman ambushed and killed three police officers and wounded three others.

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