The trial in a road-rage shooting that took the life of former NFL football player Joe McKnight began Tuesday in a New Orleans suburb, where a judge and attorneys were questioning dozens of potential jurors.
Ronald Gasser, 56, is charged with second-degree murder in the Dec. 1, 2016, shooting of the player who began his career as a local high school football star. Initially charged with manslaughter, Gasser was indicted on the more serious charge last February. He has pleaded not guilty.
Gasser, who remains jailed with bond set at $750,000, was dressed in a dark blue pinstripe suit as he entered the courtroom, accompanied by sheriff’s deputies.
McKnight, 28, was a running back, considered a top recruit when he came out of John Curtis Christian School. He played college ball at Southern California before three seasons with the New York Jets and one with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Jury selection was set to begin in the courtroom of state District Judge Ellen Kovach. Gasser’s attorneys have cast McKnight as the aggressor and are expected to argue Gasser fired in self-defence.
If convicted as charged, Gasser would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Police said the confrontation took place as the men travelled across a Mississippi River bridge in New Orleans and on roads in neighbouring Jefferson Parish.
Authorities said the shooting happened after both cars had stopped and McKnight approached Gasser’s vehicle. Gasser shot McKnight three times.
Defence attorneys said last year that they believe McKnight tried to enter Gasser’s car through the passenger window. They noted that Gasser stayed on the scene after the shooting and said he co-operated with police.
The case bore striking similarities to an earlier 2016 shooting death involving another former NFL player. Will Smith, who retired after starring on New Orleans Saints teams that inspired the city after Hurricane Katrina with winning seasons and a 2010 Super Bowl victory, was shot to death during a confrontation following a traffic crash. A 29-year-old New Orleans man, Cardell Hayes, was sentenced to 25 years in prison after a jury convicted him of manslaughter.