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Gym mat death: New evidence points to foul play, expert says
Oct-09-2013 726 0

For the local sheriff's department, the death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson is a closed book: A tragedy, but an accident.

State medical examiners concluded that Johnson suffocated in January after getting stuck in a rolled-up gym mat while reaching for a sneaker. That's a finding his family has never accepted, and one challenged by the findings of a second autopsy they commissioned.

Now, death scene imagery obtained by CNN has led a former FBI agent to question how the three-sport athlete died.

"I don't believe this was an accident. I think this young man met with foul play," said Harold Copus, now an Atlanta private investigator.

And Johnson's father, Kenneth Johnson, said he believes authorities aren't leveling with his family.

What happened to Kendrick Johnson?
"They know something happened in that gym, and they don't want it to come out," he said.

'Accidental' death challenged by new autopsy

A 15-minute video and nearly 700 photos taken by sheriff's investigators in Lowndes County documented the horrific scene. Johnson's body, clad in jeans and and layered orange and white T-shirts, was found wedged into a rolled-up wrestling mat in January. His face was bloated with pooled blood, some of which had poured out of his body, soaking his dreadlocks and spilling onto the floor.

There were more streaks of blood on a nearby wall -- but it wasn't Johnson's, according to investigators. Meanwhile, Copus said there appeared to be no blood on a sneaker that the teen supposedly was attempting to reach, located inches beneath him.

A pair of orange-and-black gym shoes found a few yards from the body had a substance that looked like blood on them, but investigators told CNN the stains weren't blood -- and so the shoes weren't collected as potential evidence. The same went for a hooded sweatshirt found a few feet away from the teen.

Copus said he can't explain how investigators handled items found around the gym.

"If you're running a crime scene, then you're going to say 'That's potential evidence. Obviously, we're going to check this out and find out who does it belong to,' " he said.

Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine refused to discuss the case with CNN, saying, "Our case is closed." But in June, an independent pathologist who conducted a second autopsy for the Johnson family found the teen suffered a blow to the right side of his neck that was "consistent with inflicted injury."

In May, sheriff's Lt. Stryde Jones told CNN that investigators tested the bloodstains on the nearby wall, "and it was not the blood of Kendrick Johnson." Investigators haven't determined whose blood it was, "but it doesn't appear to be involved in our crime in any way," he said.

"In the opinion of our crime scene personnel, after looking at it closely, the blood appeared as if it'd been there for an extended period of time. It didn't appear to be very fresh," Jones said.

But Copus said it's difficult to believe that old bloodstains weren't cleaned up.

"There is no way that they would allow whoever was supposed to clean this gym to leave that blood on that wall," he said.

In September, the Justice Department said it wouldn't open a civil rights investigation into Johnson's death. But federal prosecutors in south Georgia are reviewing the imagery to determine whether a separate investigation is necessary, the U.S. attorney's office in Macon told CNN.

For Johnson's father, the evidence is clear.

"Someone murdered him," he said. "They should be in jail."

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Beau Evans Dec-06-2016 245 0
Bond has been set for Joe McKnight's admitted shooter, Ronald Gasser, 54, at $500,000 following his arrest Monday (Dec. 5) on one count of manslaughter, records show.

Gasser admitted to shooting the 27-year-old football standout during what authorities called a road rage incident that ended at the intersection of Behrman Highway and Holmes Boulevard in Terrytown Dec. 1.

Gasser had not bailed out of Jefferson Parish jail as of late Tuesday afternoon, according to Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office spokesman Col. John Fortunato. Gasser was released by authorities after questioning Thursday, without being arrested, and it wasn't until four days later that an arrest finally came amid public criticism of JPSO.

Sheriff Newell Normand on Tuesday held a press conference in which he described how events allegedly unfolded during the road rage dispute that led to McKnight's killing, and defended his department's decision not to immediately arrest Gasser. He further admonished critics on social media and elsewhere who bashed the sheriff's office in the wake of the fatal shooting.

Normand brandished a paper printout bearing copies of heated and curse-filled Twitter comments.

During the press conference, Normand said the incident possibly began with McKnight's vehicle cutting Gasser's car off, leading to a heated "road rage" encounter. Citing a statement Gasser gave to investigators, Normand said Gasser pursued McKnight on the Crescent City Connection and off the bridge to Behrman Highway, shouting and swerving through traffic along the way.

The sheriff said both Gasser and McKnight were "driving erratically," with one witness singling out McKnight specifically as driving erratically across the bridge. McKnight was shot three times after exiting his vehicle to confront Gasser, Normand said.

McKnight and Gasser argued with each other throughout the road rage chase, Sheriff Newell Normand said Tuesday.

Addressing why Gasser was booked with manslaughter, as opposed to a more serious count of second-degree murder or negligent homicide, Normand said the sheriff's office found the current evidence to warrant only manslaughter. But that charge could change if additional evidence is found and presented to the Jefferson Parish District Attorney's Office, which may take several weeks to file formal charges, Normand said.

"We may get additional evidence that would allow the DA to up-charge, or we may get additional evidence that may compel the DA to down-charge," Normand said. "But at this point in time, we believe that we have the evidence that fits the elements of manslaughter."

Normand also defended his department's decision not to immediately arrest Gasser Dec. 1, saying that "there is nothing that we have done in this case out of the ordinary, or that is unusual."

Making an immediate arrest could have tainted statements from witnesses or scared them off, he said. It's that strategy, Normand said, that led to one "key witness" coming forward on Saturday and several other witnesses being located through Monday night.

"Just as I pointed out on Friday, our suspicions that we were going to be able to get our hands around additional witnesses that would help in this case, actually came to fruition," Normand said.

In May 2013, LaPlace resident Roger Batiste turned himself in to the Kenner Police Department after he shot 27-year-old Shane Vicknair from inside his pickup truck.

The sheriff also said one witness at the scene the day of the shooting lied in stating that Gasser had exited his car, stood over McKnight, and shot again as McKnight was apologizing, Normand said. That witness' false statement, Normand continued, helped feed a social media frenzy in which thousands of commenters accused the sheriff's office of mishandling the case.

"We started Thursday afternoon with a witness who lied," Normand said. "A witness who said that Gasser got out of his car, popped caps through the wind shield of Joe McKnight's car, yanked him out of the car and popped him again while he was on the ground, (Gasser) saying that he had voted for Donald Trump and that he was going to show him. And we were off and running."

Normand said that witness "told three different stories within the same hour."

"Shame on that individual," he said. "And that started something going down a path that we collectively should be ashamed of ourselves."
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Gromer Jefferson Dec-06-2016 226 0
Gov. Greg Abbott's selection of Faith Johnson as the new Dallas County district attorney was a safe choice that showcases GOP diversity. But it's not likely to mean the GOP keeps the seat in 2018.

Though she's a former judge, prosecutor and a somewhat familiar name in Dallas County political circles, it's unlikely that Johnson will have the heft necessary to beat a hard-charging Democrat when voters pick the county's top law enforcement officer.

Johnson, 66 of Cedar Hill was a judge who lost her seat when Democrats took control of county politics in 2006. That year, she had the backing of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, then the county's leading Democrat, and still lost on the strength of a otherwise-unified Democratic Party vote.

Since 2006 the county has become even more Democratic, as evidenced by Hillary Clinton's crushing of Donald Trump in last month's general election here.

Johnson, who is black, has a relationship with southern Dallas ministers and is associated with the Potter's House and its popular leader, Bishop T.D. Jakes.

But Democrats, still fuming over Republican Susan Hawk's 2014 victory over incumbent Craig Watkins, have vowed to mobilize the base and take back the seat. State District Judge Elizabeth Frizell and former state District Judge John Creuzot are leading contenders for the Democratic nomination in two years.

Johnson will be formidable, but she doesn't have enough juice to hold the seat for the GOP. Perhaps no Republican does. Since 2006, Hawk is the only Republican to have won a contested, countywide race. And her victory was due to dissatisfaction with Watkins inside and outside his own party.

Abbott's choice of Johnson signals just how tough it must have been for him to find a fresh-faced lawyer and politician to stabilize the office after Hawk's rocky tenure and give the GOP a chance to hold the post in 2018.

Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Phillip Huffines didn't mention the prospects of 2018 while praising the pick.

"Her 17 years as a state district judge proves she has the experience needed to succeed as the new Dallas County district attorney," he said in a written statement.

For Republicans, Johnson is not the most politically exciting choice, but she'll have to do.

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SI Dec-06-2016 304 0
Former NFL running back Rashaan Salaam has died, the University of Colorado announced Tuesday. He was 42. 

Salaam was found dead in a park in Boulder, Colo., on Monday night, the school said. There were no signs of foul play. 

Salaam starred at Colorado for three seasons, winning the Heisman trophy as a junior in 1994. He then declared for the NFL draft and was selected 21st by the Chicago Bears. 

He rushed for 1,074 yards in 16 games as a rookie—the youngest player ever to rush for 1,000 yards—but was let go by the Bears in 1997, after three injury-plagued seasons. He played two games with the Browns in 1999 but only had one carry. Salaam played in the XFL during the league’s only season and attempted an NFL comeback with the 49ers in 2003. 

“He was very coachable,” Bill McCartney, Salaam’s coach with the Buffaloes, said in a statement. “He had a happy heart. I loved being around him. He didn't take himself too seriously, and he always credited those around him, especially his offensive line. What I liked about him is that he had a sparkle in his eye. He was upbeat and positive.”
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Dec-06-2016 234 0
Ronald Gasser, the man authorities say shot former NFL player Joe McKnight during a road rage incident, was arrested Monday (Dec. 5) on a manslaughter charge, according to the jail records from Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office. The move comes after Gasser originally was released after the shooting.

The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office said it will hold a press conference Tuesday morning (Dec. 6) to give an update on the investigation. The media event is scheduled for 10 a.m. with Sheriff Newell Normand. Watch it live on NOLA.com's Facebook page.

Authorities say Gasser fatally shot McKnight, 27, from inside his vehicle during a road rage incident Thursday (Dec. 1) at the intersection of Behrman Highway and Holmes Boulevard in Terrytown (map). Gasser was released hours later by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office without charges, as Normand said his office was still working to investigate what happened.

Normand indicated during a press conference last week that the probe of McKnight's shooter includes consideration of Louisiana's stand-your-ground law. The law says a person does not have "a duty to retreat" when the prospect of life-threatening or great bodily harm appears imminent.

"In this state, there are relative statutes that provide defenses to certain crimes," Normand said last week. "For example, officers have those same defenses. So when we shoot and kill somebody, the question is ... it's a homicide. The question is, 'Is it justified or not?'"

The NAACP and others have pointed to the case of Cardell Hayes, who was arrested by New Orleans police and charged with second-degree murder after fatally shooting former Saints star Will Smith under similar circumstances in April. Critics have pointed to the fact that Gasser is white and Hayes is black, suggesting different treatment from law enforcement because of their race, something Normand has rejected.

The local NAACP chapter held a press conference Monday outside the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office headquarters to call for justice and transparency in the investigation into McKnight's death.

"We will not go away until this case has been resolved justly and fairly," said Gaylor Spiller, president of the NAACP's West Jefferson Parish branch. She asked to meet with Normand to discuss the case, saying there are "too many unanswered questions" which lead to "a whole lot of misunderstanding, misinterpretation."
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Dec-05-2016 156 0
A mistrial has been declared in the trial of a South Carolina police officer charged with murder in the death of a black motorist. Circuit Judge Clifton Newman declared the mistrial after a jury said Monday that it was unable to unanimously agree on a verdict for Michael Slager.

The judge had told jurors they could also consider a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Slager was standing trial for shooting 50-year-old Walter Scott to death in North Charleston after stopping him for having a broken taillight. Cellphone video taken by a bystander of the shooting was shown widely in the media and on the internet and sparked national outrage. Race was never made a major issue at trial, even though Slager is white and Scott was black.

Jurors had deliberated more than 22 hours over four days.
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Beau Evans Dec-05-2016 71 0
A 61-year-old Marrero man said Ronald Gasser, the alleged shooter of football player Joe McKnight, spat at and tried to punch him during a road rage altercation in 2006, according to the Daily Mail. Gasser was cited for simple battery in the incident, which happened at the same intersection where he admitted to shooting dead McKnight last Thursday (Dec. 1), but the charge was ultimately dropped, authorities said.

Gasser fatally shot McKnight, a former NFL player and local high school standout, at the end of a road rage incident in the Terrytown intersection of Behrman Highway and Holmes Boulevard, authorities said. Gasser, who shot McKnight three times, was released without charges Friday, pending results of an investigation. 

Speaking to the Daily Mail in a story published Sunday, Marrero resident John Shilling, 61, said that he spotted Gasser in a red truck driving "irate and crazy" on the Crescent City Connection in 2006. Shilling said he called a number listed on the side of the truck and told the man who answered -- who turned out to be Gasser himself -- about the erratic driver.

"I said you're driving like a fool," Shilling said, according to the Daily Mail. "He sees me on the phone and realizes it's me."

Shilling then pulled over at a gas station at the intersection of Behrman Highway and Holmes Boulevard, the same location where Gasser admitted to shooting McKnight during a road rage incident last Thursday. Outside the vehicle, Shilling said Gasser exited his truck and spat at him, the Daily Mail reported. Shilling then said Gasser tried to punch him a few times.

According to a news release issued by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office last Friday, authorities alleged that Gasser confronted Shilling in an argument at the gas station and "and began to strike him with a closed fist several times." Shilling then called police.

The news release says Gasser was issued a misdemeanor summons for simple battery related to the altercation with Shilling, who court records show was listed as a witness in a "Final Record" of the incident. The charge was ultimately dismissed by the Jefferson Parish District Attorney's Office but will be reviewed again now, the news release said.

Shilling declined to speak with NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune at his home in Marrero on Sunday evening. He said only that he had spoken once with Sheriff Newell Normand and planned to do so again soon.

As of Saturday night, no charges had been brought against Gasser, who was released Thursday night by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office after questioning. The decision to release Gasser without pressing charges has prompted outrage on social media and led to questions about Louisiana's stand-your-ground law.

In recent days, McKnight's family members, friends, teammates and supporters have expressed grief and outrage over the killing. At a candlelight vigil held Saturday night at the Lincoln Manner Gym in Kenner where McKnight first made a name for himself as a high school football standout, around a dozen speakers expressed anguish over the road-rage-prompted fatal shooting.

"It was senseless," U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, told NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune at the vigil. "You're in a car with the ability to drive away, with the ability to roll your windows up, and you feel the only choice you have is to shoot three times? I can't comprehend that."

Meanwhile, Gasser's family and friends have likewise expressed shock over the shooting, claiming the outburst of violence alleged by police appeared to come out of nowhere. An old friend said he had no idea Gasser even owned a gun, despite the close quarters he and Gasser kept while the friend lived and worked together with Gasser in Terrytown a few years ago.

That friend -- who requested not to be named out of concern for his safety and professional reputation -- said he lived with Gasser at his home in Terrytown for several years until 2014, when the friend left Louisiana to pursue business opportunities in California, he said. During that time, he and Gasser ran a telecommunications business together. The two go back 10 years, the friend said, to when he and Gasser built IT infrastructure for hospitals in Arizona and Las Vegas.

Speaking with NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune on Saturday, Gasser's friend described his former business partner and housemate as a hard worker and deliberate thinker.

"Really smart guy, really thoughtful," Gasser's friend said. "Really puts a lot of time into thinking about his decisions.  You could always see he was thinking. That was kind of the allure to go into business with him."

"I'm still trying to wrap my head around what happened," said Gasser's daughter.
Gasser's friend said he never witnessed Gasser get angry to the point of violence.
"I've never seen him angry in that manner," he said. "Ron's not the kind of guy who would just get out and start shooting at somebody because he's upset. That's just not the kind of guy he is."

At a Friday press conference, Sheriff Normand countered a statement from a witness at the shooting scene Thursday who said Gasser stood over McKnight and shot him three times. An autopsy conducted by the Jefferson Parish Coroner's Office shows bullets did not enter McKnight's body from a elevated position, Jefferson Parish Coroner Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich said Friday.

Officers at the scene discovered spent shell casings inside Gasser's car. It's evidence indicating that Gasser could not have been standing outside his car and over McKnight when he opened fire, the sheriff said.

Normand also called false a witness statement noting that McKnight had been in the act of apologizing when he was shot.
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Ginger Adams Otis Dec-02-2016 153 0
A lone juror in South Carolina's murder trial against ex-cop Michael Slager threw the courtroom into turmoil Friday when he wrote the judge a note saying the jury "may never reach a unanimous decision."

The letter was accompanied by a note from the jury foreman who wrote that the holdout juror "had issues" and "needed to leave."

The information came after Judge Clifton Newman had already sent the jury back once to try and come to an agreement in Slager's murder trial.

The ex-cop, who is white, is charged with the death of 50-year-old African American Walter Scott in 2015.

But the extra time didn't seem to have changed the mind of the one person who couldn't make peace with the guilty verdict.

"We all struggle with the death of a man and all that has been put before us," the unknown juror wrote to Judge Newman.

But "I cannot in good conscience find the defendent guilty," the juror continued, adding "I cannot and will not change my mind."

The stunning revelation had Judge Newman searching for a way to avoid declaring a mistrial.

Jury deliberating Walter Scott trial ask for ex-cop's testimony

Because he had already sent the jury back once Friday for deliberations, he couldn't order them back a second time under South Carolina law.
The jury had to ask for clarification on the law in order to get more time to deliberate.

Although the jury was clear that it could not reach a consensus, writing, "Yes, we are at a deadlock," they did ask for the court clerk to go over the laws with them one more time.

"I do," the forman said, when asked by Judge Newman if he thought it would help to get a legal explanation of the charges one more time.

The judge declared a brief recess while the jury went back to the deliberation room for the third time and lawyers from both sides waited in the tense courtroom.

The fatal encounter was caught on cell phone video that clearly showed Slager, who was then a North Charleston police officer, pump five bullets into Scott as he tried to flee after getting pulled over during a traffic stop.

But even with that evidence, the jury of 11 whites and one African-American couldn't come to a consensus.

Just after 1 p.m. Friday, the third day of deliberations, the jury sent out a note saying they didn't have a unanimous decision.

That's when Judge Newman issued an Allen charge, a final instruction that mandates jurors to reconsider and try to reach a verdict.

The judge had allowed the jury to consider a manslaughter charge against Slager as well as murder.

The jury on Thursday night had asked the court for an explanation of how fear might differ from heat of passion -- suggesting they were debating the lesser charge of manslaughter.

But the judge told them the court could not answer that question.

It’s for the jurors to decide, he said, urging them to use their common sense.

Slager testified he feared for his life when he shot Scott.

Scott was pulled over by Slager, who is white, on April 4, 2015, when the officer spotted a broken taillight on his vehicle.

During the encounter, Scott tried to run away — prompting Slager to open fire.

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Jonathan Bullington Dec-02-2016 617 0
A relative of slain former NFL player Joe McKnight said she was heartbroken Friday after learning that his accused killer, Ronald Gasser, was released from custody overnight.

"It's got me sick to my stomach," Shantell Dobard, 41, said by phone Friday (Dec. 2). "I'm just disappointed how they just let him go free after he shot to death an unarmed man. The system is so screwed up."

Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office spokesman Col. John Fortunato said investigators are consulting with the district attorney's office on whether to formally charge Gasser, 54, who stayed at the scene following McKnight's shooting death Thursday afternoon and was taken into custody at that time. Paul Purpura, spokesman for the district attorney's office, declined to comment when reached by phone Friday.

Fortunato said the department is continuing its investigation, and asked anyone with information about the shooting to contact department homicide detectives at 504-364-5393.

McKnight, 28, was shot about 3 p.m. Thursday (Dec. 1) at the intersection of Behrman Highway and Holmes Boulevard in Terrytown. A witness, who declined to give her name, said she saw a man at the intersection yelling at McKnight, who was trying to apologize. The man shot McKnight more than once, the witness said. She said he shot McKnight, stood over him and said, "I told you don't you f--- with me." Then the man fired again, she said.

Authorities said Gasser turned his gun in to officers. Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said McKnight did not have a gun, and deputies did not find a gun outside McKnight's vehicle.
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Jonathan Bullington Dec-02-2016 221 0
Ronald Gasser, the man authorities say shot and killed former NFL player Joe McKnight, was released from custody overnight without being charged, Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office authorities said Friday morning.

Gasser, 54, has not been formally charged, said JPSO spokesman Col. John Fortunato. As the investigation into McKnight's death continues, Fortunato asked anyone with information about the shooting to contact department homicide detectives at 504-364-5393.

McKnight, 28, was shot about 3 p.m. Thursday (Dec. 1) at the intersection of Behrman Highway and Holmes Boulevard in Terrytown. A witness, who declined to give her name, said she saw a man at the intersection yelling at McKnight, who was trying to apologize. The man shot McKnight more than once, the witness said. She said he shot McKnight, stood over him and said, "I told you don't you f--- with me." Then the man fired again, she said.
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