Man convicted of manslaughter in Joe McKnight case seeks new trial

Updated: Mar. 14, 2018 at 7:11 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The man convicted of manslaughter in a road rage incident that killed a former NFL player is seeking a new trial.

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

Gasser was found guilty of manslaughter on Jan. 26 by a Jefferson Parish jury in the death of former NFL and John Curtis football player Joe McKnight, who was killed in December of 2016.

McKnight played in the NFL for four seasons. He played prep football at John Curtis.

Gasser, 56, was 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 the 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 ten years ago was not relevant.

The motion states:

"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. 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 attorney's claim this resulted in unfair prejudice against him, which they say warrants a new trial.

The state questioning the jurors on what they believe was "necessary" also was called into question by the defense.

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.

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 also believe he 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 detective instead of playing the statement in its totality.

The motion claimed that the state "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.

A judge has not yet ruled on the motion. Gasser is set to be sentenced on Thursday.

RELATED LINKS: Road Rage: The killing of a former NFL Player

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The trial: 

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", two-hundred 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.

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