1. Why Ronald Gasser was Found Guilty of Manslaughter of former New York Jets Running Back Joe McKnight?
In a nutshell, the jury reached a compromise verdict and found that Ronald Gasser committed manslaughter, not second degree murder. This case is very similar to the verdict in the State of Louisiana versus Cordell Hayes regarding the killing of former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith.
2. The Charges
The defendant, Ronald Gasser, was charged by grand jury indictment with committing the second degree murder of Joe McKnight. The jury found that Gasser was guilty of manslaughter.
3. The Law
In Louisiana, second degree murder is defined, in part, under La. R.S. 14:30.1 as the killing of a human being when the offender has a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm.
4. The Facts Alleged by the District Attorney
It was undisputed at trial that Ronald Gasser killed Joe McKnight, the former NFL and New York Jets football player, on December 1, 2016, after a road rage incident that began on the New Orleans Crescent City Connection Bridge and ended in Terrytown as both Gasser and McKnight shouted vulgarities at each other and raced back and forth during the five-mile chase. McKnight was killed when he exited his vehicle in Terrytown, stood at the passenger-side window of Gasser’s car, and attempted to get into Gasser’s vehicle. Gasser did not leave the driver’s seat of his car. The District Attorney contended that Ronald Gasser intentionally killed McKnight by shooting him three times, hitting him in the shoulder, chest, and left hand.
5. The Facts Alleged by Ronald Gasser’s Defense
Gasser’s attorneys argued self-defense, claiming that Joe McKnight was the aggressor and that Gasser feared for his life when he shot and killed McKnight. They also contend that McKnight was under the influence of several drugs at the time of the encounter.
6. Louisiana’s Stand Your Ground Self-Defense Law (The Castle Doctrine)
Louisiana Revised Statutes, 14:20(A)(1), Justifiable Homicide, provides,
A. A homicide is justifiable:
(3) When committed against a person whom one reasonably believes to be likely to use any unlawful force against a person present in a dwelling or a place of business, or when committed against a person whom one reasonably believes is attempting to use any unlawful force against a person present in a motor vehicle as defined in R.S. 32:1(40), while committing or attempting to commit a burglary or robbery of such dwelling, business, or motor vehicle.
(4)(a) When committed by a person lawfully inside a dwelling, a place of business, or a motor vehicle as defined in R.S. 32:1(40) when the conflict began, against a person who is attempting to make an unlawful entry into the dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle, or who has made an unlawful entry into the dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle, and the person committing the homicide reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the entry or to compel the intruder to leave the dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle.
B. For the purposes of this Section, there shall be a presumption that a person lawfully inside a dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle held a reasonable belief that the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent unlawful entry thereto, or to compel an unlawful intruder to leave the dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle when the conflict began, if both of the following occur:
(1) The person against whom deadly force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcibly entering or had unlawfully and forcibly entered the dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle.
(2) The person who used deadly force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry was occurring or had occurred.
C. A person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and who is in a place where he or she has a right to be shall have no duty to retreat before using deadly force as provided for in this Section, and may stand his or her ground and meet force with force.
D. No finder of fact shall be permitted to consider the possibility of retreat as a factor in determining whether or not the person who used deadly force had a reasonable belief that deadly force was reasonable and apparently necessary to prevent a violent or forcible felony involving life or great bodily harm or to prevent the unlawful entry.
7. The Verdict Against Ronald Gasser
From the evidence presented and from the jury’s verdict on January 26, 2018, the jury found that Ronald Gasser was in the heat of passion when he killed Joe McKnight. Thus, Ronald Gasser was found not guilty of second degree murder. He was found guilty of manslaughter.
8. Manslaughter in Louisiana
Manslaughter is a less serious crime and a responsive verdict to the charge of second degree murder. Under Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 814, Responsive verdicts; in particular, the only verdicts which may be rendered by the jury when the indictment charges second degree murder are
1. Guilty of second degree murder;
2. Guilty of manslaughter;
3. Guilty of negligent homicide; or
4. Not guilty.
In other words, the jury in the trial of Ronald Gasser had no choice but to render one of the four verdicts mentioned above. By finding Ronald Gasser guilty of manslaughter, the jury found that the elements of second degree murder were not proven by the prosecution. Under La. R.S. 14:31, manslaughter is defined as
(1) A homicide which would be murder under either [first degree murder] or [second degree murder], but the offense is committed in sudden passion or heat of blood immediately caused by provocation sufficient to deprive an average person of his self-control and cool reflection. Provocation shall not reduce a homicide to manslaughter if the jury finds that the offender’s blood had actually cooled, or that an average person’s blood would have cooled, at the time the offense was committed; …
B. Whoever commits manslaughter shall be imprisoned at hard labor for not more than forty years. However, if the victim killed was under the age of ten years, the offender shall be imprisoned at hard labor, without benefit of probation or suspension of sentence, for not less than ten years nor more than forty years.
This information has been provided for informational purposes only and is not intended and should not be construed to constitute legal advice. Please consult your attorneys in connection with any specific situation under federal and/or Louisiana law and the applicable state or local laws that may impose additional obligations on you and/or your family member. © 2018 Gaynell Williams LLC Attorney at Law.
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