Man arrested for murder spree targeting African Americans

Police say they found the woman's body in a "very rural" area outside of Columbia, South Carolina, and over the weekend spotted the suspect's car, found blood in the vehicle that matched the victim, and arrested the driver. (AFP Photo/Joshua LOTT) (GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File)

Chicago (AFP) - Police in the southern US state of Louisiana on Tuesday charged a 23-year-old man with killing two people in a murder spree that may have been racially motivated.

Authorities in Baton Rouge said Kenneth James Gleason, who is white, killed two black men last week, whom he picked out at random in "cold, calculated, planned" murders.

"This is a potential death penalty case," said prosecutor Hillar Moore during a news conference. Gleason faces two counts each of first degree murder and attempted murder.

Authorities did not reveal a motive for the crimes, saying they were still speaking with the suspect.

But alluding to the case's racially-charged nature, Baton Rouge Police Chief Jonathan Dunnam said Gleason's actions "could have potentially created a tear in the fabric that holds this community together."

The chilling account of the murder spree begins last Monday -- when Gleason is alleged to have shot multiple rounds into an African-American neighbor's home. No one was killed in that incident.

On Tuesday, Gleason allegedly picked out 59-year-old Bruce Cofield at random and shot him to death.

On Thursday, he killed again, this time shooting 49-year-old Donald Smart 10 times, according to police.

Police said both victims were killed in the same manner, in which the gunman first shoots from inside his car and then gets out, stands over the victim and shoots several more times.

"Had there not been a swift conclusion to this case, I feel confident that this killer would have probably killed again," Dunnam said.

DNA evidence and surveillance videos tied Gleason to the crimes, authorities said.

Gleason's attorney Christopher Alexander did not return AFP's request for comment, but told The Advocate local newspaper that his client "vehemently denies guilt."