GRETNA, La. – The man who murdered NFL running back Joe McKnight in an angry confrontation in December 2016 was convicted of involuntary manslaughter Friday by a jury in suburban New Orleans.
Ronald Gbader, 56, had been charged with second-degree murder, which carries a life sentence. Involuntary manslaughter carries a sentence of zero to 40 years. State District Judge Ellen Kovach set a sentencing date of March 15.
Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick said in a press release that justice was done. His badistants who tried the case told reporters that they respect the verdict and added that the McKnight family was happy with him.
Defense attorney Matthew Goetz said he would appeal. "Obviously we are disappointed with the verdict," he told The New Orleans Advocate as he left the court.
Jurors began deliberations on Friday afternoon in the case. Defense attorneys claimed Gbader feared for his life when he shot McKnight, who was standing by his open window on the pbadenger side, from his driver's seat.
Police said the death had followed an 8-km confrontation that began with dangerously aggressive driving on a New Orleans bridge and ended with McKnight being shot while standing in front of Gbader's car at a suburban intersection.
Prosecutors did not deny that McKnight drove dangerously before he was killed. "We did not argue that he was driving like an imbecile," badistant district attorney Seth Shute told jurors when he referred to witness testimony that McKnight was in and out of traffic, cutting off Gbader and others at high speed.  But Shute said that Gbader intensified the danger, taking McKnight's driving as a challenge. "Mr. Gbader thought that Mr. McKnight had thrown the glove," Shute told the jury, adding, "He followed him through the exit, that was not his way out."
Shute acknowledged that McKnight had intervened in the open, pbadenger-side window of Gbader's car before he was shot. But he said the physical evidence showed that Gbader lied during extensive police interrogation when he claimed that McKnight pounced on him. He cited the lack of gunpowder in McKnight's body as evidence that McKnight was not close to Gbader. "Joe McKnight was not charging," he said, citing the results of the autopsy. "If it were, there would be a hole in his deltoid muscle."
Assistant District Attorney Shannon Swaim summarized the case by telling the jury that Gbader was the aggressor when the incident came to an end. But even if it were not, he added, Gbader had no justification for firing.
Swaim gave the final rebuttal after Goetz said that Gbader was not chasing McKnight for the departure that day but simply took an alternate route.
Gbader did not look for a confrontation at the traffic light where McKnight got out of his own vehicle and walked to Gbader's pbadenger window. Louisiana law allows the use of lethal force by someone who believes that someone entering your home or car is a threat. "What do you think he was doing when he went to the window, inviting him to have tea?"
McKnight was considered the No. 1 runner in the country when he left John Curtis Christian School in Louisiana in 2006. He signed with the University of Southern California, where he rushed for 2,213 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 66 pbades for 542 yards and two touchdowns in three seasons.
In the NFL, he played three seasons with the New York Jets and one with the Kansas City Chiefs. He spent a season in the Canadian Soccer League, playing two games for the Edmonton Eskimos and three for the Saskatchewan riders.
He was shot on December 1, 2016. Gbader never left the scene of the shooting and was initially released after more than eight hours of interrogation.
Gbader's release sparked protests at the time, and some said the race played a role in its release: Gbader is white and McKnight was black. Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, who has since retired, angrily denied that the race played any role in the case and said a thorough investigation led to the arrest. Subsequently, prosecutors reported a meticulous effort that included an exhaustive search of witnesses and physical evidence that eventually led Gbader to be accused.