The man who allegedly shot and killed former USC running back Joe McKnight was charged with second-degree murder on Thursday, according to the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s office.
The suspect, Ronald Gasser, could face life in prison without the option of parole, probation or suspension of sentence. Due to the indictment, his bond was increased to $750,000.
McKnight was shot to death in December 2016 in Terrytown, Louisiana at the age of 28. The incident occurred directly after a yelling match that appeared to be the product of road rage.
The grand jury’s decision will revolve around the question of whether Gasser felt that McKnight could have been attempting to break into his car, according to legal experts. Witness Andrew Bailey says that McKnight appeared to be placating Gasser before he was shot three times. He watched McKnight stand between the two men’s cars and attempt to talk to Gasser, but never make a move that could appear aggressive.
“He never moved closer to the vehicle,” Bailey said in an interview with Outside the Lines.
When police arrived at the scene, Gasser immediately admitted to shooting the unarmed McKnight. However, he was released hours after being taken into custody, then was booked into jail four days later.
McKnight’s autopsy cleared up previous witness claims that Gasser shot McKnight again while he was on his back. There is, however, photo evidence that he stood over McKnight’s body as he died with his gun still in his hand.
The defendant’s main case, according to an Outside the Lines interview with Louisiana State University Associate Professor Ken Levy, is that Gasser’s actions were justified under Louisiana’s Revised Statute 14:20, which allows the use of deadly force to stop someone from unlawfully entering their car.
“You have to reasonably believe that they’re trying to get in, and they present a threat of serious bodily injury or death,” Levy said.
Louisiana’s justifiable homicide status also includes a “Stand Your Ground” clause, which protects a person’s right to refuse to retreat in the face of a threat. The same provision protected Cardell Hayes, who fatally shot former NFL player Will Smith in New Orleans last year. However, both clauses remain irrelevant to this case unless proof emerges that McKnight attempted to enter Gasser’s car or challenged him to a physical altercation.
As a Trojan, McKnight lit up the Coliseum with his speedy drives. With 1,199 rushing yards and three 100-yard games in his three seasons at USC, he was often compared to Reggie Bush.
Despite being plagued by injuries throughout college, McKnight went on to play in the NFL for three seasons with the New York Jets, and for another season with the Kansas City Chiefs. He was playing in the CFL at the time of his death.