National Roundup

Life sentence for white man who randomly killed Black man

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A white Louisiana man has received a life sentence for the apparently random killing of a Black man in a park. He also is accused of killing another Black man at a bus stop and firing into the home of a Black family as part of a string of attacks that police said may have been racially motivated.

Kenneth Gleason was found guilty of first-degree murder in April for the killing of Donald Smart, The Advocate reported. Smart, 49, was shot in a park near Louisiana State University as he was walking to his overnight shift as a restaurant dishwasher in September 2017.

The 27-year-old was also charged in the fatal shooting of Bruce Cofield, 59, a homeless man who was sitting at a bus stop on a busy street in Baton Rouge two days before Smart was killed. Evidence was presented during the trial that Gleason fired gunshots through the front door of the only Black family that lived on the same suburban street as him and his parents.

After consulting with Smart’s family, prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty. That meant the only sentence that could be imposed on Gleason’s first-degree murder conviction was a mandatory life term.

District Judge Beau Higginbotham said the death penalty would have been the “appropriate sentence,” according to the newspaper.

“There’s nothing the penal system can do to rehabilitate you, Mr. Gleason,” he said at the Monday sentencing hearing.

Law enforcement officials have said they believe the two killings were random.

Both men were on the side of the road at night when they were shot. Officials said Gleason approached them both in the same manner — shooting them first from inside his car, then exiting the vehicle and continuing to fire while standing over them.

Gleason, who had graduated with honors from one of Baton Rouge’s most elite high schools, pleaded not guilty in December 2017.

He wasn’t charged with a hate crime, but an FBI agent testified that Gleason searched the internet around the time of the crimes for topics including Nazi propaganda and white nationalism. Law enforcement told The Associated Press that officers who searched his home found a handwritten copy of an Adolf Hitler speech.

Investigators said ballistics tests and DNA on shell casings linked the shootings. Jarrett Ambeau, one of Gleason’s attorneys, said jurors told both parties after the trial they felt that proof was strong, according to The Advocate.
“Forensic science evidence is very difficult to overcome,” he said.

Liquor distribution executive to plead guilty in college scam

BOSTON (AP) — The chief executive officer of a California liquor distribution company has agreed to plead guilty in the college admissions bribery scheme less than a month before she was scheduled to face trial, according to court records filed Tuesday.

Marci Palatella will be the 33rd parent to admit to charges in the case that revealed a scheme in which wealthy parents paid big money to get their kids into top schools across the country.

Her plea deal with prosecutors calls for her to serve six weeks behind bars and pay a $250,000 fine. She also agreed to perform 500 hours of community service and serve two years of supervised release, with the first six months in home confinement, according to the plea deal, which must be accepted by a judge.

Palatella was scheduled to face jurors next month alongside two other parents in the first trial since the so-called “Operation Varsity Blues” case was first brought in March 2019.

The Hillsborough, California, woman will admit to paying $500,000 to get her son into the University of Southern California as a football recruit even though he wouldn’t really play on the team, prosecutors said.

Emails seeking comment were sent to her lawyers on Tuesday.

She will plead guilty to a charge of conspiracy to conspiracy to commit honest services mail fraud. Prosecutors have agreed to dismiss the other charge she was facing — conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery — in exchange for her guilty plea.

Palatella was among 50 parents, athletic coaches and others charged in the case in 2019 that embroiled elite universities across the country.

Only a handful of parents are still fighting the charges. More than 30 other parents have pleaded guilty, including TV actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli.
The two parents headed for trial next month — Gamal Abdelaziz and John Wilson — are also accused of paying bribes to get their kids into the University of Southern California as bogus athletic recruits.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Sept. 8.

Woman sentenced for embezzling $300K-plus

BILOXI, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi woman who supported a shopping addiction by embezzling $303,000 from her employer will serve five years on probation for her crime.

Circuit Judge Larry Bourgeois sentenced Elizabeth Rose O’Neil, 37, to 20 years in prison, but suspended the prison sentence, gave her probation and ordered her to make full restitution.

In January 2020, O’Neil pleaded guilty to a felony charge of embezzlement. At her plea hearing, she admitted stealing between $1,400 to $1,600 a week from 2012-2017 while she worked as a bookkeeper at J.O. Collins Contractor Inc., a construction company in Biloxi.

A company audit revealed the theft. O’Neil said she was able to disguise what she was doing by writing off the payments as a business expense, but then deposited the money into her personal account.

Defense attorney Don Rafferty said Monday that O’Neil has paid $189,526 of what she owes in restitution. During her plea hearing, O’Neil said she planned to sell some family land in order to make a significant payment to her former employer. O’Neil is expected to pay $300 a month until full restitution is made.