Jurors in a Gretna courtroom on Wednesday saw a much different Ronald Gasser as they watched him answer questions during his third videotaped interview with detectives about what happened the day he shot and killed Joe McKnight at a Terrytown intersection.
It was Dec. 5, 2016, four days after the killing, and Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office detectives Donald Meunier and Mark Roniger started by telling Gasser he was under arrest on a count of manslaughter for shooting the former NFL player three times at Behrman Highway and Holmes Boulevard.
A more subdued Gasser spoke quietly, answering questions haltingly and occasionally stammering as he insisted he felt only fear, not anger, during the deadly confrontation.
Investigators, the detectives explained, had found witnesses and evidence that contradicted key parts of Gasser’s narrative, in which he had fired in terror and in defense of his life as McKnight lunged into the passenger-side window of his car.
One witness said she saw Gasser veer across lanes of traffic to get behind McKnight’s silver Audi SUV on Gen. de Gaulle Drive as it turned right onto Behrman Highway. And surveillance footage investigators found showed Gasser speeding past McKnight on Behrman and pulling in front of him.
Both of these actions, Meunier explained, ran counter to the narrative of Gasser being pursued during the road-rage argument that began atop the Crescent City Connection minutes earlier.
Gasser said he had to veer across lanes of traffic in order to make his turn, but Meunier asked why he didn’t just drive away. Wasn’t staying behind McKnight the safest place to be if he felt he was being menaced by a pursuer? Why not get behind him and make a U-turn and get home some other way? After all, Meunier noted, McKnight didn’t know where Gasser lived.
“You did none of the things that could have potentially de-escalated things,” he said.
Another problem came from the ballistics testing and autopsy report, which made it difficult to believe Gasser’s account of McKnight lunging into the passenger-side window of Gasser's blue Infiniti sedan with an arm outstretched.
Gasser, who had days earlier described an exchange of dueling middle fingers and expletives, now said repeatedly that he wasn’t mad at McKnight.
“At the time I was like, ‘What are you doing, man?’ ” he recalled.
A woman among McKnight’s family members and supporters in the courtroom shook her head.
“I suspect Mr. McKnight was driving like a complete jerk and that pissed you off,” Meunier offered as a possible interpretation of the tit-for-tat argument between the two men as they drove across the bridge.
“I suspect your anger grew and you got madder and madder,” he continued. “And by the time you get (to Behrman and Holmes), you’ve been through the wringer a bit.”
But Gasser didn’t bite, saying he didn’t recall “every microsecond” of the exchange. He did concede that “pissed off” would be an accurate term for how he felt.
Asked to demonstrate McKnight’s behavior at his car, Gasser re-enacted the lunge he said the former local high school football hero made, which he said put the two men inches away from each other.
“He jumped at me,” Gasser said.
If most of McKnight’s upper body was in his car, Meunier asked, “Why doesn’t the science support your account? Help me understand that.”
“Is it possible,” he offered, “that your perception of where he was is just wrong?”
Gasser said again that he raised his weapon as McKnight lunged, and Meunier replied, “but that doesn’t allow you (room) to point your gun. Do you realize it’s 50 inches between (the Infiniti’s) windows?”
“That’s how it happened, must have happened,” Gasser insisted. “It couldn’t happen any other way.”
Meunier said McKnight would have been coated in gunpowder had he been shot from that close range.
“As soon as I raised it and fired, I did notice he recoiled,” Gasser replied. “He did do that.”
Meunier asked why it never occurred to Gasser to roll up the window if he felt so scared.
“My adrenaline was pumping pretty good,” Gasser explained, “but it wasn’t like anger adrenaline, it was like fight-or-flight adrenaline.”
Meunier asked whether Gasser felt justified shooting McKnight, and Gasser noted he was legally allowed to shoot if he feared for his life and was afraid he would incur great bodily harm.
Meunier noted those are the same words as in the state statute and asked if Gasser had been reading up on the law.
Gasser said he had not.
The trial continues Thursday in 24th Judicial District Judge Ellen Shirer Kovach's court.
Gasser faces life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder, as he is now charged.