The man convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death former NFL running back/return specialist Joe McKnight has been sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Ronald Gasser, 56, was convicted of manslaughter in the Dec. 1, 2016 death of McKnight on Feb. 26. He would have faced a mandatory life sentence had he been found guilty of the more serious second-degree murder charge.
McKnight, 28, was shot and killed outside of his car in Terrytown, La., the result of an apparent road rage incident. One of the drivers allegedly cut the other off which fueled a chase that lasted for five miles until McKnight got out of his vehicle.
Gasser shot McKnight at least three times in the chest, shoulder, and hand. He remained in his vehicle as paramedics attempted to save McKnight’s life.
Although Gasser admitted to shooting McKnight when police arrived at the scene, he was released after his initial questioning. Gasser wasn’t arrested until Dec. 6, five days after the shooting.
Gasser’s attorneys argued that he fired in self-defense after McKnight approached his vehicle.
Witnesses said McKnight was weaving in and out traffic before the shooting. Even Assistant District Attorney Seth Shute conceded McKnight was “driving like a jerk” but contended Gasser escalated the situation when he chose follow McKnight for five miles. Shute also said that physical evidence contradicted Gasser’s claim that McKnight lunged at him, even though McKnight placed his hand on the open, passenger side window of Gasser’s vehicle.
McKnight’s mother, Jennifer, and Michelle Quick, mother of McKnight’s 9-year-old son Jayden, both delivered powerful emotional impact victim statements during the trial.
“That day, you didn’t have to do that,” Jennifer McKnight said through tears. She cried during her testimony and was escorted from the courtroom in tears.
“To you, it might have seemed like an insignificant life to take, but it wasn’t,” Quick said. She also added that her “life mission is to make sure my son, Jayden, doesn’t grow up with hate for you”.
McKnight was selected by the New York Jets with the 112th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft out of USC. He also played for the Kansas City Chiefs. In four NFL seasons, McKnight carried the ball 113 times for 505 yards and had 23 receptions for 241 yards and two touchdowns. He returned 79 kicks for 2,270 yards and two touchdowns and seven punts for 69 yards.
In addition to his NFL tenure, McKnight also played in the Canadian Football League for the Edmonton Eskimos an Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Judge Ellen Shrier Kovach called McKnight’s killing “senseless”, acknowledging that both men could have deescalated the situation but didn’t.
“Let this be a cautionary tale. If either of the men had had the good sense, the courage, the wisdom to disengage,” Shrier said. “This tragedy didn’t need to happen.”
McKnight’s death is eerily similar to that of former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith. On Apr. 9, 2016, Smith was shot to death and his wife, Racquel, wounded in an apparent road rage incident in New Orleans.
Cardell Hayes, 29, was found guilty of manslaughter in the death of Will Smith and attempted manslaughter in the shooting of Racquel Smith. Hayes was sentenced to 25 years in prison without the possibility of parole in the death of Will Smith and 15 years for the shooting of Racquel Smith. The sentences are running concurrently.