Joe McKnight killer cannot face second murder trial after lesser charge overturned

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders/Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards

The killer of former Saskatchewan Roughrider Joe McKnight cannot be tried again for murder.

A Louisiana court made the ruling after his manslaughter conviction was overturned. Ronald Gasser was originally charged with second-degree murder after shooting McKnight in a road rage incident in 2016.

Instead, the jury voted 10-2 on a lesser conviction of manslaughter and Gasser was given 30 years in prison. However, that was thrown out after the supreme court ruled any verdict that wasn’t unanimous was unconstitutional.

State district judge Ellen Shirer Kovach ruled that prosecutors could not make another attempt at a murder conviction, stating it would be double jeopardy. The ruling was upheld Thursday by the state Fifth Circuit Court of appeal in a 2-1 vote.

Judge Hans Liljeberg, joined by judge Robert Chaisson wrote: “At the time of the defendant’s trial in the present case, a unanimous verdict was not required by Louisiana law in order to acquit a defendant.”

“Therefore, when the jury returned a ten-to-two verdict of guilty of manslaughter, it served as a valid acquittal of the second-degree murder charge, precluding retrial of defendant for second-degree murder based on the principles of double jeopardy.”

The dissenting vote belonged to judge Marc Johnson.

“To vacate a jury verdict convicting a defendant because it was a non-unanimous jury verdict then uphold the implied acquittal of a defendant resulting from the same non-unanimous jury verdict is rationally irreconcilable,” he wrote.

McKnight was fatally shot by Gasser on December 1, 2016, after a chase over a bridge and lengthy dispute near New Orleans. Gasser’s defence stated the shots fired at McKnight were in self defence.

During the 2018 trial, prosecutors acknowledged the former CFLer was “driving like a jerk” but they believed Gasser escalated the situation when he went out of his way to follow McKnight down an exit.

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