Trial begins for man accused of murdering two black men, shooting at black family’s home in 2017

Published: Apr. 15, 2021 at 7:06 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The trial began for Kenneth Gleason, the Baton Rouge man charged with two counts of first-degree murder and who is accused of shooting into a family’s home just days before.

Kenneth Gleason is accused of murdering Bruce Cofield on Sept. 12, 2017. Cofield was suffering from homelessness at the time, and Donald Smart on Sept. 14, 2017 as he was walking to work.

In opening statements, lead prosecutor Dana Cummings told the jury Gleason targeted these men, hinting at skin color as a possible motive. She laid out a basic picture of what she said was Gleason’s “four day reign of terror,” which she says began when he opened fire on a neighbor’s home.

According to investigators who testified, Gleason fired three rounds into the front door of the house while Cory and Joshua Anderson were inside. Both men testified that they heard a car door slam and a car speed off after the shooting but did not see it. Joshua said he was frozen with fear.

The mother of Cory and Joshua was also called to the stand. Tonya Stevens was at work when her house was shot at. Prosecutors had her clarify that her family was the only black household on the street at the time.

The state also called neighbor Mike Damico also to testify as well. He said that he heard the shots and immediately jumped up from his desk looked out his window and called 911. Damico said he initially saw a car stopped in the road outside but by the time grabbed his pistol and  he went outside, approximately six minutes later according his testimony, the car was gone but Gleason was standing outside by his mailbox.

Gleason’s defense, Ashley Earl, Jarrett Ambeau, and Hays Towns III pressed Damico on his version of events, asking him if he thought it was possible the Gleason was in the car that sped off, looping back to his house before Damico came outside. Damico did not offer a clear response to the question.

Several detectives testified Thursday about the evidence found at the house, including several bullet holes and bullet casings. The keeping of evidence was under intense scrutiny by the defense. Cummings, in her opening statements, eluded that the defense may try to give life to a “police conspiracy” against Gleason.

Gleason’s defense also presents its opening arguments which centered largely around what Earl said was a “lack of evidence.” Earl tried to paint his client as a former Eagle Scout and honor student. He told the jury that if they question everything the only conclusion they should come to is “not guilty, not guilty, not guilty.”

The trial will resume Friday morning with testimony from East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Hemming talking about evidence collected from the scene of the shooting.

Gleason is not on trial for that shooting. Ambeau questioned the state’s reasoning for focusing on the incident which he said has no evidence connecting Gleason.

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