GRETNA, La. (CN) – The man accused of shooting former NFL player Joe McKnight during a road-rage incident in December has been indicted on charges of second-degree murder.
Ronald Gasser, 55, of Terrytown, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans, had originally been charged with manslaughter. On Wednesday he was indicted on an elevated charge of second-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence if he is convicted.
He is currently in jail and his bond was bumped to $750,000 following the new charges.
The purported road-rage incident occurred on the Crescent City Connection Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River from New Orleans. During a confrontation between the two men, 28-year-old Joe McKnight, a black man, was fatally shot. Gasser, who is white, was apprehended at the scene and taken in for questioning.
But a very public controversy ensued after Gasser, who admitted to police that he had fired three shots at McKnight, was released from police custody.
Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand defended the police department’s initial decision not to “rush to judgment” in December amid the flurry of criticism.
“Everyone should pause and reflect and recognize that a rush to judgment does not equal anything,” Normand said. “The easiest thing for me would have been, ‘Book ‘em, Danno.’ But the fact of the matter is in trying to flesh out the details, we choose not to do that,” Norman said.
Gasser was slapped with manslaughter charges a week later, and has been in custody ever since.
But this wasn’t Gasser’s first brush with the law, nor the first in which he was charged in relation to a road-rage incident.
He previously faced manslaughter charges after an incident in February 2006 when he followed a motorist he was upset with into a gas station and punched him as he refilled gas. The charges were eventually dropped.
Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick Jr. announced the indictment, but did not comment further on the grand jury’s decision to upgrade Gasser’s charge from manslaughter.
Gasser’s attorneys said Gasser killed McKnight in self-defense, according to an Associated Press report.
“Information provided from our sources indicates that McKnight exited his vehicle and attempted to enter through the passenger window of Mr. Gasser’s vehicle while threatening him with serious bodily harm,” attorneys Matthew Goetz and Gerard Archer told the Associated Press.
Police said witnesses reported Gasser and McKnight were driving erratically and yelling at each other on the bridge before they stopped.
McKnight was considered the No. 1 running back recruit in the country when he came out of John Curtis Christian School in Louisiana in 2006. He signed with the University of Southern California, where he ran for 2,213 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 66 passes for 542 yards and two scores in three seasons, according to the Associated Press.
In the NFL, he played three seasons for the New York Jets and one with the Kansas City Chiefs. He spent the past season in the Canadian Football League, playing two games for the Edmonton Eskimos and three for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.