Serial Killer Law Cited in LA Murders of Black Men

Kenneth Gleason of Baton Rouge, who is white, is charged with killing two men in cases that may have been racially motivated. He will be charged under a Louisiana law that allows for the death penalty for serial killers.

A 2009 Louisiana law making it easier to subject serial killers to the death penalty could have a profound impact on Kenneth James Gleason, the Baton Rouge man who was booked Tuesday on first-degree murder counts in a pair of fatal shootings last week, reports The Advocate. East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors sought the change to the first-degree murder statute after reputed serial killer Sean Vincent Gillis was convicted in 2008 of first-degree murder. The jury deadlocked on the death penalty, and Gillis was sentenced to life in prison. First-degree murder, which is punishable by death in capital cases, requires an aggravating circumstance, such as murdering someone while committing another crime like armed robbery or killing someone under the age of 12.

Prosecutors complained to state lawmakers after the Gillis trial that serial killers often murder without committing another aggravating crime. Authorities say Gillis confessed to killing eight south Louisiana women between 1994 and 2004. He was booked in seven of those deaths. Prem Burns, who prosecuted Gillis and helped push the change in state law, said it was sorely needed so serial killers would not be rewarded for not committing an aggravating crime in addition to each individual murder. Gleason, who is white, is booked with first-degree murder in the killings of Donald Smart, 49, and Bruce Cofield, 59, both black men. Authorities have said the shootings may have been racially motivated. Smart was shot Thursday night while walking to work his overnight shift at a cafe. Cofield was apparently homeless and frequently panhandled at the intersection where he was shot on Sept. 12.