Court: Double jeopardy applies to retrial of football star’s alleged killer

An apparent road rage dispute in 2016 resulted in the death of a standout Louisiana high school football player who spent a few seasons in the NFL.

Since then, Ronald Gasser was convicted in 2018 of manslaughter and sentenced to 30 years behind bars for killing Joe McKnight. That conviction was overturned after a subsequent and separate U.S. Supreme Court ruling — and now, a court has ruled that Gasser cannot be charged for murder on the principle of double jeopardy.

Panel hands down split decision

According to the New York Post, a jury returned a 10–2 verdict finding Gasser, who was initially charged with second-degree murder, guilty of the lesser manslaughter count.

While his appeal of that ruling was pending, the nation’s highest court weighed in on a separate Louisiana case and determined that non-unanimous guilty verdicts for serious offenses were unconstitutional.

That ruling prompted the state appeals court to vacate Gasser’s conviction and order a new trial.

Earlier this year, however, a state judge ruled that the defendant could not be retried for the same second-degree murder charge.

Upon appeal, a three-judge panel issued a split decision in favor of blocking the state from trying Gasser again on the murder count.

“A unanimous verdict was not required”

Writing for the majority, Judge Hans Liljeberg explained: “At the time of defendant’s trial in the present case, a unanimous verdict was not required by Louisiana law in order to acquit a defendant.”

For that reason, the 10-2 jury decision to convict him of manslaughter serves as a valid acquittal of the more serious second-degree murder charge, Liljeberg wrote.

In a brief dissenting opinion, however, Judge Marc Johnson underscored the perceived absurdity of deriving two completely different outcomes from the same overturned verdict.

“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,” he wrote.

For the time being, Gasser is behind bars pending a new trial. His attorney, Dane Ciolino, issued a statement in support of the appeals panel decision, adding: “We hope that the state doesn’t waste any more time and money to appeal this any further.”

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