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Man sentenced to 30 years in prison for killing former USC running back Joe McKnight

The man convicted of manslaughter in the 2016 road rage shooting death of former NFL and USC running back Joe McKnight has been sentenced to 30 years in prison Thursday.

Ronald Gasser, 56, had faced a maximum sentence of up to 40 years.

Defense lawyers argued that Gasser fired in self-defense when McKnight walked up to his car following a 5-mile confrontation that began on a bridge spanning the Mississippi River in New Orleans and ended with gunfire in neighboring Jefferson Parish.

McKnight’s mother testified Thursday during the sentencing hearing. Jennifer McKnight left the courtroom sobbing after angrily telling Gasser: “You didn’t have to do that.”

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Witnesses at the trial said McKnight had been weaving in and out of traffic at high speed before the shooting. Prosecutors acknowledged to the jury that he was, in the words of Assistant Dist. Atty. Seth Shute, “driving like a jerk.” But they argued that Gasser escalated the conflict, following McKnight down an exit that he would not ordinarily have taken moments before the shooting.

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.

McKnight was a high school football hero at Louisiana’s John Curtis Christian School. He played for USC from 2007 to 2009. In the NFL, he played three seasons for the New York Jets and one with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Gasser was indicted on a second-degree murder charge. The jury voted 10-2 for the lesser verdict of manslaughter.

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Gasser did not leave the scene of the shooting and he was released from custody for a time after being questioned. Gasser is white, and his release by authorities after the shooting of McKnight, who was black, sparked protests from some who said race was a factor in his treatment.

Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, who has since retired, denied that race played any role and noted that a thorough investigation led to Gasser’s arrest and indictment. Prosecutors later recounted a painstaking investigation, including an extensive search for witnesses and physical evidence that eventually led to Gasser being charged.

The case in some ways echoed another New Orleans-area road rage shooting from 2016. Former New Orleans Saints star Will Smith was gunned down in that April incident. The shooter was later convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 25 years.


UPDATES:

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9:50 a.m.: This article has been updated with details from the hearing and background information.

This article was originally published at 9:20 a.m.


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