GRETNA, La. (CN) – The man convicted of killing NFL running back Joe McKnight in a 2016 road rage incident that left McKnight dead was sentenced to 30 years in prison on manslaughter charges Thursday.
Ronald Gasser, 56, was sentenced to 30 of what was a possible 40 years in prison for his manslaughter conviction.
Gasser’s lawyers had argued Gasser shot McKnight in self defense when McKnight walked up to his car following a road rage episode that spanned five miles over the Crescent City Connection bridge that crosses the Mississippi River from New Orleans.
Assistant District Attorney Seth Shute summed up witness testimony from the trial with an acknowledgment that McKnight had been “driving like a jerk,” weaving in and out of traffic at high speed prior to his shooting death. Still, witnesses also said Gasser made the situation worse by following McKnight.
Shute also said Mcknight had his hand on Gasser’s open window when he approached Gasser’s car.
But, Shute said, physical evidence contradicted Gasser’s claims McKnight lunged at him prior to the incident.
Gasser said he drove after McKnight down an exit ramp he never previously intended to take. Shute argued during trial that this showed Gasser made the situation worse.
A jury in January rejected Gasser’s claim he had no choice but to shoot McKnight. The two men were seen yelling at each other as they each drove recklessly over a five-mile stretch that began on the Crescent City Connection Bridge and ended in Gretna, on the outskirts of New Orleans in Jefferson Parish. (Louisiana has parishes instead of counties.)
State Judge Ellen Shirer Kovach of the 24th Judicial District of Louisiana in Jefferson Parish said Thursday during the sentencing hearing that the killing was senseless. She said that either of the men could have backed down at any point and called Gasser’s decision to use a gun tragic.
“This tragedy did not need to happen,” Kovach said.
Prior to sentencing, McKinght’s friends and family made victim impact statements in which most of them asked Kovach to give Gasser a maximum sentence.
Many of them told the judge Gasser had not acted in self-defense and did not deserve a lenient sentence.
Kalee Rongey, a life-long friend of McKnight’s, said she was happy the fact that Glasser did not have to do what he did came out during trial.
“Numerous times you could have removed yourself from the situation and you chose not to,” Rongey said.
“A man who handles road rage like this does not deserve to be in the streets,” Rongey said.
Jennifer McKnight, McKnight’s mother, told Gasser, angrily Thursday during the sentencing hearing, “You didn’t have to do that.”
“You put pain on me I am not able to endure,” McKnight said. She said the whole thing caused her to shut down and that she has even lost friends by how much she has changed.
Michelle Quick, mother of McKnight’s 9 year-old son, Jaden, said she intends to make it her goal to raise her child without lingering hatefulness over what happened.
Quick said she would like to see Gasser put away for life and said it would bring her and her son “peace … knowing that the man who murdered his father will never be free.”
Outside the courthouse after, family members said they still felt justice has been served, even if Gasser did not get the full 40 years the misdemeanor charge could have carried.
Gasser was indicted on a second-degree murder charge, but the jury voted 10-2 for the lesser verdict of manslaughter.
Gasser stayed at the scene of the shooting. Following questioning, he was released for a time. Because he is white, his release following his shooting death of a black athlete caused outrage among some, who said the opposite scenario would be unheard of.