Without an eyewitness in Southern University shooting, the FBI turned to polygraphs, angle of shot

Published: Nov. 6, 2022

By: Drew Hawkins, Adrian Dubose, Allison Allsop and Alex Tirado | LSU Manship School News Service

Third in a four-part series.

At 12:35 p.m. on Nov. 17, 1972, the phone rang in the office of acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray in Washington.

It was Deputy Attorney General Ralph Erickson, calling to order an investigation into the shooting of the two students at Southern University amid a cloud of tear gas 25 hours before.

FBI officials quickly made plans to send dozens of agents from across the country, including some who had investigated shootings at Kent State and Jackson State. The first group arrived in Baton Rouge two days later, setting up in the Capitol House Hotel, a white-painted, square brick building downtown.

“It took us just overnight to set up the office,” said Jack Stoddard, an agent from Philadelphia. On Monday morning, Nov. 20, he said, “assignments were given out.”

Within three days, the FBI knew that the students, Denver Smith and Leonard Brown, had been killed by a single blast of buckshot – and that the shot had likely been fired by one of the East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputies near a palm tree in front of the school’s administration building.

Medical examiners removed 17 tiny shotgun pellets from the men’s bodies. Three more pellets had dented the wall of the building right behind where the men were hit as they ran from the tear gas.

Read more at The Daily Advertiser

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