The man previously convicted of killing former NFL running back Joe McKnight had his conviction of manslaughter overturned and is no longer allowed to be tried on a murder charge under double jeopardy laws.
On Thursday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld District Judge Ellen Shirer Kovach’s February ruling that Ronald Gasser could not be retried under a murder charge because it would be unconstitutional in a 2-1 panel vote.
Gasser was initially charged with second-degree murder, but the jury came back with a lesser verdict for manslaughter. The Supreme Court ruled that the non-unanimous 10-2 vote in the verdict was unconstitutional and the case needed to be retired.
The prosecutor in the case wanted Gasser on charge for murder in the new trial. The idea was declined after Kovach ruled it would be unconstitutional to have him be retried under the murder charge because it violates double jeopardy.
Gasser was involved in a fatal road rage shooting in 2016 that resulted in the death of McKnight. According to witnesses at the 2018 trial, Gasser was speeding while weaving in and out of cars before shooting at McKnight. Gasser was sentenced to 30 years in prison, but the conviction was thrown out.
“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,” said Judge Mac Johnson, who disagreed with the ruling, in a written statement.
Gasser remains jailed pending trial.
“It seemed fairly obvious to us that the Double Jeopardy clause prevented the state from trying Mr. Gasser for murder a second time after his prior acquittal on that charge,” Gasser’s attorney, Dane Ciolino, wrote in an email Thursday night. “We are glad that both the district judge and appellate court agreed. We hope that the state doesn’t waste any more time and money to appeal this any further.”
The Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on Thursday.
McKnight was a high school football hero at Louisiana’s John Curtis Christian School who played three seasons for the New York Jets and one with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Gasser fatally shot McKnight on December 1, 2016, after what authorities described as a rolling 5-mile (8-kilometer) traffic dispute and chase over a New Orleans area bridge.
One prosecutor acknowledged to the jury that he was “driving like a jerk.” But prosecutors argued that Gasser escalated the conflict, following McKnight down an exit that he would not ordinarily have taken.
Gasser’s defense team insisted he fired at McKnight in self-defense.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.