Ronald Gasser will stand trial Tuesday (Jan. 16) for second-degree murder in the shooting death of hometown football star and former New York Jets player Joe McKnight, gunned down, authorities say, as he stood at Gasser’s passenger-side window following a wild back-and-forth chase fueled by road rage.
The Dec. 1, 2016, killing ignited outrage locally and nationally as observers accused the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office of mishandling the case after they did not immediately arrest Gasser, 56, who is white, for the death of McKnight, 28, who was black.
Authorities arrested Gasser four days later and booked him with manslaughter. The charge was eventually upgraded to murder by the Jefferson Parish district attorney’s office.
Gasser, who says he acted in self-defense, has pleaded not guilty.
The case drew comparisons to the death of former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith, who was fatally shot in a similar road rage confrontation in the Lower Garden District just over seven months earlier.
A New Orleans jury found Smith’s killer, Cardell Hayes guilty of manslaughter, rejecting both the prosecution’s assertion that Hayes intended to kill Smith and Hayes’ claims that he acted in self-defense.
The jurors selected for Gasser’s trial and the attorneys for both sides will find themselves navigating similar questions of self-defense, fame and fury. And though the Sheriff’s Office said it played no role in the case, legal experts said they believe race will also become a factor.
Gasser’s fate will turn on what jurors believe happened as McKnight stood at that car window and whether it justifiably led Gasser to fear for his life enough to use deadly force, according to Ken Levy, associate professor of criminal law at LSU Law School.
“The real critical factor is where McKnight was” when he was shot, Levy said. “Was he inside the car, moving towards the car or moving away from the car? That’s what the trial is going to be about.”
The tragic confrontation between Gasser and McKnight began near the Crescent City Connection as the two men drove toward the West Bank over the bridge, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Investigators believe McKnight cut off Gasser, irritating the latter.
Gasser “set out after McKnight,” the start of a cat-and-mouse pursuit during which both men were driving erratically, yelling at each other through open windows, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said at the time. The men were “on each other’s tails, cutting in front of one another, zipping around vehicles, and on and on and on,” he said.
The chase continued until the men reached the intersection of Behrman Highway and Holmes Boulevard in Terrytown where McKnight pulled alongside Gasser, the two still arguing. Gasser’s car was blocked on all sides by traffic, which prevented him from pulling away, authorities said.
McKnight got out of his car and was positioned at the open passenger-side window of Gasser’s vehicle, bent-over at eye level,…