Ronald Gasser, Joe McKnight’s alleged killer, was granted a new trial.
The alleged killer of Joe McKnight was once convicted by a jury in a vote of 10-2. Thanks to a Supreme Court decision in April, split jury verdicts, such as the one handed down in this case, are no longer constitutional.
The history of split jury verdicts in Louisiana date back to the Jim Crow era. These split jury votes in criminal cases allowed racism to continue throughout Louisiana. However, relying on the 6th Amendment, the Supreme Court of the United States held that convictions and acquittals in criminal trials must be unanimous.
Ronald Gasser was convicted in 2018 by a vote of 10-2 of the killing of former Kansas City Chiefs running back Joe McKnight. The prosecution alleged that Gasser shot McKnight after a road rage incident escalated. He was charged with second degree murder, but ultimately convicted of manslaughter. He was in the process of appealing the conviction citing the constitutionality of split verdicts when the Supreme Court weighed in.
Gasser, along with hundreds of other convicted criminals had appealed their convictions, citing the 6th Amendment. The case heard by the Supreme Court, Ramos v. Louisiana, held that the 6th and 14th Amendments required unanimous jury verdicts. Louisiana and Oregon were both states that permitted split jury verdicts. These are now unconstitutional.
Why did a single case impact the Joe McKnight case? Every person has appeals open to them, meaning they are able to challenge the rulings of lower courts. After a certain number of appeals, you will have exhausted your ability and your conviction is 100% certain. However, for those that had not exhausted their appeals and received split decisions, they received new trials. The Court held that their decision was retroactive to all that had not exhausted appeals. Gasser had not exhausted his appeals, and so, he has been granted a new trial.
Gasser will not go free, but he will be able to present his case again to a new panel of 12 jurors. This time, however, if the jury cannot reach a unanimous conviction, the case will be a mistrial resulting in possibly another trial. It remains to be seen when the new trial will begin, but for now, Joe McKnight’s alleged killer is just that—alleged.