FILE- In this Nov. 18, 2012, file photo, New York Jets’ Joe McKnight (25) sits on the sideline during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams in St. Louis. Closing argument are expected Friday, Jan. 26, 2018 in the murder trial of Ronald Gasser, who is accused of killing Knight in a road rage incident. (Tom Gannam/AP File)

Jury: Man guilty of manslaughter in death of ex-CFL and NFL player

Ronald Gasser, 56, has been convicted of killing running back Joe McKnight in a road rage incident in 2016

The man who killed CFL and NFL running back Joe McKnight in a December 2016 road-rage confrontation was found guilty of manslaughter Friday by a jury in suburban New Orleans.

Ronald Gasser, 56, had been charged with second-degree murder, which carries a life sentence. Manslaughter carries a sentence of anywhere from zero to 40 years. State District Judge Ellen Kovach set a March 15 sentencing date.

Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick said in a news release that justice was served. His assistants who tried the case told reporters they respect the verdict and added that the McKnight family was pleased with it.

Defence attorney Matthew Goetz said he would appeal. “We’re obviously disappointed with the verdict,” he told The New Orleans Advocate as he left the courthouse.

Jurors began deliberations Friday afternoon in the case. Defence attorneys had claimed Gasser feared for his life when he fired from his driver’s seat at McKnight, who was standing at his open passenger-side window.

Police said the death had followed a 5-mile (8-kilometre) rolling confrontation that began with dangerously aggressive driving on a New Orleans bridge and ended with McKnight being shot as he stood outside Gasser’s car at a suburban intersection.

Prosecutors didn’t deny that McKnight drove dangerously before he was killed. “We do not dispute that he was driving like a jerk,” Assistant District Attorney Seth Shute told jurors in closing arguments, alluding to witness testimony that McKnight weaved in and out of traffic, cutting Gasser and others off, at high speed.

But Shute said Gasser escalated the danger, taking McKnight’s driving as a challenge. “Mr. Gasser thought that Mr. McKnight had thrown the gauntlet down,” Shute told jurors, later adding, “He followed him off the exit. That was not his exit.”

Shute acknowledged that McKnight had a hand on the open, passenger side window of Gasser’s car before he was shot. But he said physical evidence proved Gasser lied during extensive police questioning when he claimed McKnight lunged at him. He cited the lack of gun powder on McKnight’s body as evidence that McKnight wasn’t close to Gasser. “Joe McKnight was not lunging,” he added, citing autopsy results. “There would be a hole in his deltoid muscle if he was.”

Assistant District Attorney Shannon Swaim summed up the case by telling jurors that Gasser was the aggressor as the incident drew to a close. But even if he wasn’t, she added, Gasser was not justified in firing.

Swaim gave the final rebuttal after Goetz said Gasser wasn’t pursuing McKnight down the exit that day but simply taking an alternate route.

Gasser did not seek a confrontation at the traffic light where McKnight exited his own vehicle and walked up to Gasser’s passenger window. Louisiana law allows the use of lethal force by someone who believes someone entering his or her home or car is a threat. “What do you think he was doing when he went to the window, inviting him to tea?”

McKnight was considered the No. 1 running back recruit in the country when he came out of John Curtis Christian School in Louisiana in 2006. He signed with the University of Southern California, where he ran for 2,213 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 66 passes for 542 yards and two scores in three seasons.

In the NFL, he played three seasons for the New York Jets and one with the Kansas City Chiefs. He spent a season in the Canadian Football League, playing two games for the Edmonton Eskimos and three for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

He was shot Dec. 1, 2016. Gasser never left the shooting scene and was initially freed after more than eight hours of questioning.

Gasser’s release sparked protests at the time, and some said race played a role in his release — Gasser is white and McKnight was black. Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, who has since retired, angrily denied that race played any role in the case and said a thorough investigation led to the arrest. Prosecutors later recounted a painstaking effort including an extensive search for witnesses and physical evidence that eventually led to Gasser being charged.

Kevin McGill, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Higher gas tax to help fund transit in Greater Victoria

You’ll be paying an extra two cents per litre at the pump starting April 1, 2018

James Bay residents face six-week long construction dig for sewage pipe

Niagara Street closed to vehicles as pipe assembly and installation connects Ogden Point to McLoughlin Point

‘Pendulum’ swings Indigenous arts onto the Belfry Theatre stage

From contemporary to traditional, ‘it’s a magic show’ says Indigenous Artist in Residence

Victoria cannabis advocates call proposed trust fund an ‘overreach’

BCICA says North Saanich councillor’s ideas on cannabis ‘cherry picking’

B.C. BUDGET: Fare freeze, free travel for seniors on BC Ferries

A complete fare freeze will be put into place on major routes, and fares will be rolled back on smaller routes by 15 per cent

VIDEO: Top 10 B.C. budget highlights

The NDP is focusing on childcare, affordable housing and speeding up the elimination of MSP premiums

Walmart partners online grocery service to bring Vancouver home delivery

Move expands upon similar efforts announced last November to grow home delivery service

Alpha dog leads VicPD officers to arrest

Victoria Police Department’s K9 Unit sniffing out crime

BC Wine Institute to take legal action against Alberta

The BC Wine Institute to seek injunction to protect B.C. wineries from Alberta wine ban

BC BUDGET: Tobacco tax hike may light up black market in smokes

NDP government adds another 56 cents per pack as of April 1

4 treatment centres to open in memory of B.C. teen who died of an overdose

A treatment centre for addictions is opening in Penticton after the first one fell through

Snow in the forecast for Vancouver Island

Environment Canada is calling for up to four centimetres of snow to fall Wednesday

BCHL Today: Merritt peaking at right time and Taylor signs with UNH Wildcats

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

VIJHL playoffs: Cougars look to pounce on Coutre and the Wolves

Hockey series a rematch from last season’s opening round

Most Read