Midway through a 7½-hour deliberation process Friday, the jury deciding whether Ronald Gasser was justified when he fatally shot former NFL player Joe McKnight asked the judge for the legal definition of "aggressor."

Getting that definition was the crucial moment, one of the 12 jurors said Monday.

After considering the definition, 10 members concluded it was Gasser's fiery response to being cut off by McKnight in traffic that kicked off the confrontation that ended in the ex-John Curtis Christian School standout's killing at a Terrytown intersection on Dec. 1, 2016.

The two holdouts felt McKnight's decision to step out of his car at the intersection provoked Gasser to pull the trigger in self-defense, according to the juror, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the heated public opinion that has surrounded the case.

The juror's remarks provide the first glimpse into the debate over the fate of Gasser, 56, who was ultimately convicted of manslaughter and faces up to 40 years in prison at a sentencing hearing March 15.

The remaining 11 jurors either declined comment or didn't immediately respond to requests for comment from The Advocate. 

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The juror who agreed to be interviewed said the first vote was taken rather quickly, with five members initially favoring acquittal and three in favor of convicting Gasser of second-degree murder.

A couple of jurors were wavering between acquittal and manslaughter, and a couple more were torn between manslaughter and second-degree murder, which carries mandatory life imprisonment and is the charge prosecutors sought.

A key part of the debate among the six white women, four white men, one Hispanic woman and one black woman in the jury room centered on exactly when the incident began and who was the instigator, the juror said.

Defining when the incident began was important because the state's self-defense law would allow Gasser to use lethal force if he felt threatened and if McKnight, 28, was inside Gasser's vehicle, but it would not have allowed him to instigate a conflict and then claim self-defense.

Gasser would have had to make a clear and good-faith effort to withdraw from any conflict that he himself had started.

The juror said that to those who favored convicting Gasser, the incident started when Gasser reacted to being cut off by McKnight on the Crescent City Connection and began exchanging expletives with him as they weaved in and out of traffic for miles across the bridge and on the West Bank. 

Those who wanted to acquit, however, believed that the incident truly began only when McKnight stepped out of his car after the two stopped on Behrman Highway at the traffic light at Holmes Boulevard.

McKnight walked up to Gasser's open passenger window and Gasser shot him three times, telling police the former football star had tried to attack him through the window, though police said the physical evidence suggested McKnight's hand was, at most, dangling inside the window's edge.

Prosecutors at the end of the eight-day trial noted that McKnight had cut off other motorists that day but that only Gasser engaged in a rolling argument with the former New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs player.

There was also testimony that Gasser had invited McKnight to get out of McKnight's car shortly before the shooting. Prosecutors noted that both a witness and Gasser himself quoted McKnight as saying, "I'm out of my car," and, "No, you get out of your car." 

The state argued this suggested McKnight had been goaded into getting out of his car by Gasser. 

As deliberations entered the eighth hour, eight jurors favored finding Gasser guilty of manslaughter, with the remaining four split between an acquittal on one end of the spectrum and a murder conviction on the other.

The juror who spoke with The Advocate believed those who were holding out for murder switched their vote to manslaughter both to "be done with it" and because they'd been convinced that Gasser had acted in the heat of the moment, a crucial part of the definition of manslaughter.

Louisiana has the unusual practice of allowing nonunanimous verdicts, requiring only 10 of 12 jurors to agree on a defendant's guilt in cases that don't involve the death penalty. Oregon is the only other state to allow such verdicts.

The juror said that despite the length of the deliberations, "no ill feelings" formed among jurors who heard the case in 24th Judicial District Judge Ellen Shirer Kovach's courtroom.

"At times, our voices did get raised because people are passionate," the juror said. "But it wasn't to the point of disrespecting anybody. We were just trying to get our points across, and sometimes in doing that you raise your voice."

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.

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