Ronald Gasser, who was convicted of manslaughter in January for killing former NFL player and local high school football standout Joe McKnight, is seeking a new trial.
Gasser is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday by 24th Judicial District Judge Ellen Shirer Kovach, who could send him to prison for as many as 40 years for the fatal shooting at a Terrytown intersection on Dec. 1, 2016.
In January, a jury rejected Gasser’s claim that he acted in self-defense in shooting McKnight after McKnight followed him off the Crescent City Connection to the intersection of Holmes Boulevard and Behrman Highway, got out of his SUV and approached Gasser's passenger-side window.
Witnesses testified that the dispute between the two men while crossing the bridge and afterward was a tit-for-tat affair in which Gasser at times chased McKnight and appeared to taunt him.
After deliberating for about eight hours, the jury voted 10-2 to convict Gasser of manslaughter, rejecting both his self-defense claim and the second-degree murder charge sought by the prosecution.
Because the crime included the use of a gun, Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick’s office could have asked the judge to set the minimum sentence at 20 years, but it did not. As a result, there is no mandatory minimum sentence.
Gasser’s motion for a new trial, filed Tuesday by his attorneys Gerard Archer and Matthew Goetz, rests on issues already litigated during his trial and in pretrial hearings.
Chief among those was the judge’s decision to allow testimony about a 2006 road-rage incident in which Gasser was accused of punching a man three times after the man called Gasser's cellphone — thinking he was reaching a supervisor — to complain about his driving.
As they have argued before, Gasser's attorneys again said that no weapons were involved in the previous incident, that it allegedly occurred in a parking lot, not the street, and that there was no serious injury to the victim. The attorneys again argued that Kovach went too far in allowing it into the trial.
"An 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," they wrote. "It has no bearing or evidentiary value in determining whether the defendant acted in self-defense."
Prosecutors successfully argued during pretrial hearings, however, that it was relevant because the state needed to rebut Gasser's self-defense claim and that a prior road-rage incident in which Gasser was said to be the aggressor was therefore relevant.
Kovach granted the state's request before the trial, and Gasser's attorneys appealed to the state 5th Circuit Court of Appeal, which upheld her decision. In denying Gasser's bid to exclude the incident, a three-judge panel pointed to an appeals court decision in a Shreveport murder case that seemed to mirror the issue in Gasser's case.
Gasser's lawyers also contend in their motion for a new trial that detectives testifying for the prosecution were allowed to state that Gasser had a responsibility to retreat when in fact he was not required to; that the recordings of 911 calls about the incident made by people who did not testify amounted to hearsay; and that the state should have played recordings of a detective’s statements in their entirety.
While Gasser's sentencing is scheduled for Thursday, the motion for a new trial will be heard first. If the request is denied, the defense has a right to request a 24-hour delay before sentencing.
Both sides are subject to a gag order, preventing them from discussing the case with media.