The Shooting of Joe McKnight: A Cautionary Tale To All Drivers- Part VI Lessons From The Guilty Verdict
The Shooting of Joe McKnight
“A Cautionary Tale to All Drivers”
Part 6: Lessons from the Guilty Verdict
Prosecutors say that Ronald Gasser lured Joe McKnight to the window of his car with the intent to kill him after a five-mile “tit-for-tat mutual road rage” incident. Gasser had already taken his loaded .40 caliber Smith & Wesson out of his gym bag before the two stopped for a red light at an intersection in a suburb of New Orleans. The defense argued that McKnight had been “basically trying to kill him and run him off the road like a madman,” and that Gasser feared for his life when the former New York Jets running back leaned into the open window of his car.
Prosecutors asked for a second degree murder conviction. A divided jury took seven hours to render a compromise verdict of manslaughter. Judge Ellen Kovach had broad discretion in sentencing Gasser; she could have let him go with little or no jail time, but she decided to make a statement by giving the 56-year-old a 30 year prison term. “Let this be a cautionary tale,” she said, “to all drivers who rage behind the wheel of their car at other drivers.”
The biggest lesson the Gasser case offers concealed carriers is that you shouldn’t take your weapon into a situation where you know you’re likely to lose your temper. Gasser had a history with road rage; he once physically assaulted a man for criticizing his driving at the exact same intersection where he had the deadly encounter with McKnight. If you know you’re prone to losing your temper while behind the wheel, then perhaps having your gun in the car is more likely to get you into trouble than out of it.
The next lesson is one we encounter frequently in self-defense cases: don’t make detailed statements to law enforcement following a self-defense shooting — especially without the counsel of a lawyer. Gasser voluntarily submitted to an eight-hour video recorded interrogation. Prosecutors played all eight hours to the jury, and they found elements of Gasser’s story that could be contradicted through their interpretation of the physical evidence. Gasser’s eagerness to demonstrate his innocence scuttled his legal defence.
Also, when you carry a weapon, you have an obligation not to start fights. When the physically imposing Joe McKnight leaned into Gasser’s car, he crossed the threshold of the vehicle, and Louisiana law says that if an intruder crosses the threshold of your home or car, you can be justified in using deadly force to protect yourself. But the protections offered by the law unravel if you are the one who instigated the fight — if you are the “first aggressor.” Witnesses called the encounter between Gasser and McKnight a “tit-for-tat mutual road rage” incident. The defense attorney admitted that the five-mile chase “muddied the waters” regarding who started the confrontation. An anonymous juror told the local newspaper that jurors were initially split on who started the altercation, and ultimately they decided it was probably Gasser. If self-defense is going to be justified, the shooter must make it clear he was not the first aggressor.
Finally, as CCW Safe national trial counsel Don West says, in a self-defense case, “your past will become your present.” Gasser’s documented history with road rage suggested that he wasn’t acting purely out of fear when he pulled the trigger. Concealed carriers should think about their own past. Any record of fights, feuds, or threats could raise doubts about the legitimacy of an self-defense claim made in the future. Check your social media accounts. Are there any posts there that could suggest a cavalier attitude about gun ownership or self-defense? How would those appear to a jury if you ever had to face criminal charges for defending yourself against an intruder?
By convicting Ronald Gasser of the lesser charge of manslaughter, the jury demonstrated that they didn’t believe Gasser set a trap to kill Joe McKnight. But they also sent a clear message that they did not think Gasser was innocent. For 56-year-old Ronald Gasser, his 30 year sentence might as well be a life sentence. Both men exercised bad judgement. Now one is dead and the other will likely spend the rest of his life in prison. Don West says, “This was a shooting that was preventable if someone just used common sense.”
Ronald Gasser had several opportunities to avoid a deadly confrontation with Joe McKnight, and perhaps the most important lesson presented by his case is that, as a concealed carrier, if you can possibly avoid creating a situation where you might shoot someone, then you should.
In the next installment of “The Four Elements of Self-Defence,” we’ll turn our eye to the Michael Dunn case and the so-called “loud music” shooting of Jordan Davis in 2012.
Shawn Vincent- Litigation Consultant
Shawn Vincent is a litigation consultant who helps select juries in self-defense cases, and he manages public interest of high-profile legal matters. If you have any questions for Shawn, or would like more articles like this, let us know below!