Filed Under:  Local

Man convicted of killing former NFL player Joe McKnight gets 30 years

19th March 2018   ·   0 Comments

Ronald Gasser, the West Bank man convicted of manslaughter in a Dec. 1, 2016 road-rage incident that killed former NFL player Joe McKnight, was sentenced last Thursday to 30 years. Two days before last Thursday’s scheduled sentencing date, Gasser’s attorneys filed a motion for a new trial.

The judge denied the motion for a new trial, and sentenced Gasser to 30 years in prison.

Gasser’s attorneys, Gerald Archer and Matthew Goetz, filed the motion for a new trial on Tuesday.

Gasser, who told authorities that he was defending himself when he shot McKnight after a road-rage incident that began in Orleans Parish and ended in Jefferson Parish, was found guilty of manslaughter on Jan. 26 by a Jefferson Parish jury.

Gasser did not take the stand in his own defense during the racially charged trial. Gasser is white and McKnight was Black.

The fatal shooting made national headlines in part because it was the second fatal road-rage incident in the New Orleans area involving a former NFL player in 2016. Former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith was killed eight months earlier in New Orleans’ Garden District.

The racially charged incident also heated up social media with many of McKnight’s loved ones, former teammates, friends, coaches and others questioning why then Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand waited four days to arrest Gasser in the fatal shooting.

Sheriff Normand fanned the flames of racial animosity when he held an afternoon press conference to defend his decision during which he read e-mails and coaxial media comments that included the N-word to refer to Blacks who voiced support for the white sheriff.

McKnight, a former John Curtis High School and University of Southern California standout, played in the NFL for four seasons. He was 28 at the time of his death.

Gasser, 56, was not arrested until four days after the incident and was initially charged with second-degree murder. The incident unfolded on Behrman Hwy. and Holmes Blvd. during a road rage incident that started on the Crescent City Connection.

Gasser said he acted in self-defense when McKnight got out of his SUV and lunged into Gasser’s passenger side window. Gasser shot McKnight three times.

Gasser faces a sentence of zero to 40 years.

According to last week’s motion, during the trial it was “evident” that Gasser acted in self defense, and that the homicide was justifiable.

The motion also claimed that Gasser’s rights were violated when the judge denied the pretrial motion seeking unanimous jury verdicts on all the felony charges he was facing. It also claims evidence shown in court from Gasser’s past road rage incident over 10 years ago was not relevant.

“The unrelated fist fight from over a decade ago does not show proof of motive, identity, knowledge, plan, preparation, intent or absence of mistake or accident,” Gasser’s attorneys contend. “It has no bearing or evidentiary value in determining whether the defendant acted in self defense.”

The motion also claimed that the court pressured Gasser to testify despite him invoking his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself. His attorneys claim this resulted in unfair prejudice against him, which they say warrants a new trial.

The defense also red-flagged prosecutors’ questioning of the jurors on what they believe was “necessary.”

Gasser’s attorneys claimed that under state law, the jury is not allowed to consider the means of retreat as a factor when determining whether or not a person acted in self defense.

FOX 9 News reported that the defense also questioned the state’s request for the jury to consider the reasonableness of Gasser’s actions. According to the motion, Gasser’s actions should be judged based on the circumstance.

Gasser’s attorneys said their client deserves a new trial based on his entire police interview being viewed in court, along with 911 calls, and showing portions of a statement made by a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office detective instead of playing the statement in its totality.

The motion claimed that Jefferson Parish prosecutors “repeatedly alluded” to Gasser’s failure to drive away from the situation or call 911. Gasser’s attorneys claim that he had “no duty” to retreat from the situation, and that he had a legal right to be in the vicinity of the incident.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys did not deny both men engaged in dangerous activity leading up to the shooting, weaving in and out of traffic at high speed.

During closing arguments, the prosecutor told the jury, “We’re not saying Mr. McKnight was perfect, but what happened on that bridge was a challenge. He, meaning Gasser, wasn’t going to let mister McKnight get away with it.”

The prosecutor talked about how the autopsy report proves McKnight was not lunging into Gasser’s car when he was shot.

The prosecutor told the jury Gasser was the aggressor when he followed McKnight off the General DeGaulle exit and the road rage escalated. They said Gasser was not justified in opening fire on McKnight.

Defense attorney Matt Goetz says his client had every right to defend himself. Goetz said his client was taking an alternate route home after being rattled by McKnight. He told the jury this case is not about a challenge. He says it is about choices.

The defense attorney told the jury, “He, meaning Joe McKnight chose to drive like a maniac. He chose to almost run Ronnie off the road. I guess, in his mind, if you’re a 6’2”, 200-plus pound pro-football player with marijuana and Oxycodone in his system, you can do that.”

During deliberations, jurors asked the court two questions. The first one dealt with the difference between second-degree murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide. The second question was about the “Stand Your Ground” law and the aggressor doctrine.

Louisiana law states someone can use lethal force against anyone entering private property, including a vehicle, if they feel there is a threat.

This article originally published in the March 19, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Readers Comments (0)

You must be logged in to post a comment.