Joe McKnight’s killer granted new trial after split-jury verdicts outlawed by U.S. Supreme Court

Joe McKnight’s killer has been granted a new trial in New Orleans where the Kenner, Louisiana native was gunned down.

The former Saskatchewan Roughriders running back was shot dead by Ronald Gasser on Thursday, December 1, 2016. Gasser was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 30 years in prison on Friday, January 26, 2018. The 56-year-old was originally charged with with second-degree murder, which carried a life sentence. reporter Michelle Hunter reports: Gasser will receive a new trial after the Louisiana 5th Circuit Court of Appeal on Wednesday vacated his manslaughter conviction because the jury’s 10-2 verdict was not unanimous. The three-judge panel’s decision comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s April ruling outlawing split-jury verdicts. 

The state 5th Circuit upheld the conviction and sentence in July 2019 when Gasser appealed. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in April to abolish split-jury verdicts was retroactive to all defendants whose convictions are still under direct appeal in the court system. Gasser is in custody at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel, and will remain there until a bail hearing can be held. 

Police said McKnight’s death followed a five-mile (eight-kilometre) confrontation that began with dangerously aggressive driving on a New Orleans bridge and ended with McKnight being shot as he stood outside Gasser’s car at a suburban intersection. McKnight was 28-years-old.

“We are shocked to hear the news of Joe’s sudden passing. We send our deepest sympathies to Joe’s family, friends, and all those impacted by this tragedy,” Riders general manager and head coach Chris Jones said in a statement after McKnight’s sudden passing.

“We are saddened to hear of the tragic loss of Joe McKnight. Losing a member of our Rider family this way is an unthinkable occurrence. Our thoughts and prayers are with Joe’s family, teammates and coaches,” Riders president Craig Reynolds said.

“On behalf of our Board of Governors and the entire CFL family, I’d like to convey my deepest sympathies to all those close to Joe McKnight, especially his loved ones and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are also with the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ organization at this difficult time,” then-CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge said in a statement.

McKnight, who played for the NFL’s New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs before moving to the CFL, signed to Saskatchewan’s practice roster on September 26, 2016 and ran for 150 yards in his first CFL start on October 15 as the Roughriders beat Toronto 29-11. He finished the 2016 season with 228 rushing yards and 80 receiving yards over five games with Edmonton and Saskatchewan.