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The Fallout After A Former NFL Player Is Shot To Death


Last night, the New York Jets held a moment of silence before their football game against the Indianapolis Colts. It was to mark the passing of a former teammate, Joe McKnight. The running back was shot and killed in New Orleans last week in what began as a road rage incident. The shooter was initially released by authorities but now has been arrested. We're joined by reporter Eve Troeh of member station WWNO for more. Eve, can you just start off by reminding us what we know about how Joe McKnight died?

EVE TROEH, BYLINE: Well, this happened on Thursday afternoon at a busy intersection in the suburbs of New Orleans right next door in Jefferson Parish, so broad daylight, lots of people around. Both men were in their cars, and apparently the Jefferson Parish sheriff says they'd been in a road rage incident for several miles, including on a bridge across the Mississippi River. So they'd pulled over and they started arguing, and then people heard gunshots. There were several 911 calls. The sheriff and the coroner say Ronald Gasser shot Joe McKnight three times.

Now, Gasser was sitting inside his car. McKnight was standing outside the car at the open passenger window. Those shots killed McKnight. Mcknight, we should say, was unarmed, and Gasser, he waited on the scene for the police to show up. He admitted that he killed Joe McKnight, and the police detained him. They questioned him, but then they released him. So these past four days have seen a lot of outcry and questions over that. And then we got news this morning that Ronald Gasser has in fact been arrested on a manslaughter charge.

MARTIN: So any idea what's to account for the delay, why he was let go for days?

TROEH: We don't know yet. There was a press conference on Friday in which Sheriff Newell Normand vaguely hinted at state laws that could have protected Gasser's right to use deadly force. The sheriff was asked about stand-your-ground laws, but he didn't elaborate. And the sheriff, you know, wanted to make clear that he doesn't see this case as at all about race, but a lot of people don't agree with that. They took note that Gasser, the shooter, is white and the unarmed man he killed, Joe McKnight, was black. There will be another press conference today in just a few minutes in fact, so we may have some more details after that.

MARTIN: What's been the reaction just around New Orleans?

TROEH: This has been a really devastating killing. Joe McKnight was a local sports hero. He was a superstar in high school. He went on to play at USC, which broke a lot of hearts. People really had hoped he'd go to LSU. But he did well at SC and then he went pro and played for the New York Jets and the Kansas City Chiefs - a standout running back. He'd been playing in the Canadian leagues recently, and, you know, the future of his career seemed a little uncertain. But high school players here just thought this guy was the best you could be, and they wanted to be like him. He helped out with coaching as well.

There was a vigil for him on Saturday that drew hundreds of people. And on the political side of the death, you know, these past four days have been confusing about why someone who admittedly killed someone else would get to go home that same night when, you know, McKnight went home in a body bag.

MARTIN: And, strangely, he's not the only former NFL player who's been killed in New Orleans - in the area. And that story's back in the news this week, right?

TROEH: Yeah. This week, we see the beginning of the trial of the killing of former Saints player Will Smith. He was shot and killed by Cardell Hayes also after something you could call a road rage incident. Now, Hayes was arrested, and he's been sitting in jail for eight months waiting for this trial. Hayes, who is black, could face life in prison if he's found guilty of this murder.

MARTIN: Eve Troeh with member station WWNO in New Orleans. Eve, thanks so much.

TROEH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eve Troeh was WWNO's first-ever News Director, hired to start the local news department in 2013. She left WWNO in 2017 to serve as Sustainability Editor at Marketplace.