Update: 6:20 p.m. Ronald Gasser, the man charged with murdering ex-NFL pro Joe McKnight, will not testify in his own defense. And his attorneys didn't call a single witness before resting their case.  

Gasser and his attorneys made the announcement to 24th Judicial District Court Judge Ellen Shirer Kovach on Thursday evening, after jurors at his trial spent a dozen minutes going over evidence exhibits in the case. That included the gun used to fatally shoot McKnight, which Gasser claims was done in self-defense. 

The defense's decision to not put on a case suggests it does not believe prosecutors met the burden of proof needed for jurors to convict Gasser of unjustifiably killing McKnight. Gasser faces mandatory life imprisonment if convicted of second-degree murder.

Jurors could choose to find him guilty of lesser charges: manslaughter, which carries up to 40 years; and negligent homicide, which carries up to five years. They also could find he justifiably killed McKnight and acquit him, setting for him to be released from jail for the first time since his December 2016 arrest. 

Though Gasser chose to not take the stand, jurors heard plenty from him after he gave a total of three voluntary, recorded statements to police. They lasted about a dozen hours total. 

Kovach recessed the trial until 10 a.m. Friday, when each side will deliver its closing argument. Jurors will then receive their instructions and begin deliberating Gasser's fate to conclude a trial that saw six days of testimony. 

Update: 5 p.m. — Prosecutors indicated Thursday evening that they are resting their second-degree murder case against Ronald Gasser.

The state's final witness, Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Tim Scanlan, wrapped up testimony just before 5 p.m. and the evidence exhibits are being organized so that the jury can review it one last time. 

It is not clear whether the defense plans to call any witnesses in Gasser's defense.

Scanlan essentially testified that the physical evidence inside Gasser’s cramped blue Infinity coup contradicts his account of the fatal shooting of Joe McKnight.​ Gasser, 56, claims McKnight, 28, lunged into his car through an open window and almost touched him, prompting Gasser to open fire; but McKnight had no evidence on him indicating he was that close. 

Goetz tried to downplay the significance of the lack of physical evidence on McKnight, saying there was also no evidence on a ladder in the car that a gun had been fired near it. But Scanlan, a ballistics expert, said ladders are different from people, leading to some fiery exchanges between the defense attorney and the chief deputy. 

"Science doesn't lie, does it?" Goetz asked. Scanlan replied, "It can be spun." 

Goetz later asked Scanlan, whose boss is facing re-election in March, whether his career would be in jeopardy if Gasser was acquitted. 

"The outcome of this trial has no bearing on my future," Scanlan said. 

Check back with The Advocate for more details later. 

Original story

The doctor who conducted the autopsy of former NFL player Joe McKnight testified Thursday that either of the two gunshot wounds to McKnight’s upper body could have been fatal on its own, and that the trajectories of the bullets suggested he was leaning downward when he was killed.

Dr. Dana Trosclair, chief forensic pathologist for the Jefferson Parish Coroner’s Office, testified in the second-degree murder trial of Ronald Gasser in 24th Judicial District Court that McKnight was about 3 feet away from Gasser based on her findings.

On cross examination, the defense raised questions about why soot and gunpowder were not more prevalent inside his car since ballistics show the bullet that struck McKnight’s hand left a hole inside the door.

Gasser has admitted to shooting McKnight three times at Behrman Highway and Holmes Boulevard in Terrytown on Dec. 1, 2016, though he claims he did it out of fear for his life after McKnight reached into his passenger-side window.

Prosecutors contend McKnight at most had his hand dangling inside the half-open window that afternoon during an argument, which started while they were driving across the Crescent City Connection.

Both sides also questioned Trosclair about what the autopsy can and cannot say about how close McKnight was to Gasser when he was shot, a key point in the case that will likely be examined further when the investigator who reconstructed the crime scene takes the stand.

Trosclair testified that bullet wounds can indicate what direction the projectiles were coming from, and that McKnight was leaning forward when he was shot.

The presence of soot, unburned gunpowder and marks on the skin from unburned gunpowder – known as “tattooing” or “stippling” – can suggest how far away someone was from their assailant.

She said she classified the distance as “intermediate,” which is between 2 and 3 feet, though she said she would consider it on the long-end of that scale. She said the microscopic presence of gunpowder residue found inside one of McKnight’s wounds prevented her from classifying it as “distant,” or more than 3 feet.

Trosclair said she was not privy to the results of tests to determine whether there was gunpowder or soot on McKnight’s shirt.

Trosclair said there was enough internal bleeding resulting from the wound to McKnight’s right shoulder to kill him, and that he had blood in his lungs and froth in his throat that suggested he was breathing after he was shot.

The bullet that entered his chest punctured his liver, kidney and diaphragm, she said.

Earlier on Thursday, jurors were taken to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office crime lab in Harvey to see the car that Gasser was driving when the killing occurred.

Jurors spent about 10 minutes peering into the blue Infiniti coupe under an overhang at the back of the complex. Attorneys for both the state and the defense examined the car before jurors were let in at about 9:20 a.m.

A bullet mark was visible in the passenger-side of the car. That bullet struck the second finger of McKnight's left hand on the day of the shooting.

An aluminum "Little Giant" ladder that Gasser, a telecommunications contractor, had in his passenger seat on the day of the killing had also been re-positioned in the car.

Prosecutors have pointed at the ladder to cast doubt on Gasser's claim that McKnight tried to lunge into his car through the open passenger window and attack him moments before Gasser shot McKnight. Gasser's side argues the ladder would not have deterred McKnight from trying.

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.

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