Joe McKnight was a top-rated running back coming out of John Curtis Christian School. From there, he attended Southern Cal before being drafted by the New York Jets, where he played for three seasons. McKnight also played a year with the Kansas City Chiefs before his NFL career was done.
No one would have expected a man with so much going for him would die on a bridge over the Mississippi River near New Orleans. But that’s exactly what happened. According to police, McKnight and a man named Ronald Gasser got into an argument on the road that escalated into road rage. Both vehicles stopped, and McKnight approached Gasser’s vehicle.
No one is sure exactly what happened next, but defense attorneys have argued McKnight attempted to climb through the passenger window of Gasser’s vehicle. Gasser then pulled out a handgun and shot McKnight three times. Gasser remained at the scene of the shooting, later cooperating with police investigating the case.
Now that case is headed to court. Initially, Gasser was charged with manslaughter, but that charge was elevated to second-degree murder prior to the beginning of the trial. Gasser has pleaded not guilty, saying he acted in self-defense. Despite this plea, Gasser remains in jail awaiting trial.
Throughout the pretrial, defense attorneys have repeatedly said McKnight was definitely the aggressor, and that their client, Gasser, acted in self-defense because he was in fear for his life. Meanwhile, it’s telling that the state of Louisiana upgraded the charge after all the evidence was collected. Clearly, the state believes Gasser did not act in self-defense, and that the shooting was not justified.
The details and the reasoning behind the claims and charges remain largely sketchy but will come out in the trial. Meanwhile, the case is in the court of public opinion, with people lining up clearly on either side of the incident. Some believe Gasser provoked McKnight and that if he had not provoked the former NFL player, that McKnight would be alive today. Others believe that Gasser was justified. Maybe he and McKnight provoked each other, but it was McKnight who chose to exit his vehicle and charge Gasser’s car.
Soon, the case will be argued and go to the jury. If convicted, Gasser could face life in prison. Prosecutors are expected to call several character witnesses on behalf of McKnight, which may include former NFL teammates.
Some are saying the case strongly resembles another high-profile murder case involving a former NFL player. Former New Orleans Saints star, Will Smith, who was with the team during their 2010 Super Bowl victory, was killed in a confrontation after an auto accident. In that case, the shooter, Cardell Hayes, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States