GRETNA, La. — You're more likely to find Dane Ciolino teaching the next generation of attorneys and judges at Loyola University Law School than arguing a case in court.
Wednesday, however, he arrived at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal in Jefferson Parish to argue an appeal on behalf of Ronald Gasser. He is the Gretna man convicted of manslaughter in the 2016 road-rage killing of former NFL running back Joe McKnight.
Ciloino said this case stood out so much, he and his students decided to take on this appeal themselves for free.
"Because the character evidence, and I teach evidence, was so egregious, was so prejudicial, that it never should have been a part of this trial," Ciolino said.
Judge Ellen Shirer Kovach sentenced Gasser to 30 years in prison for the death of McKnight who was a high school football standout as John Curtis in River Ridge.
Gasser killed McKnight following a 5-mile long, rolling confrontation that began on the Crescent City Connection and ended at Behrman Highway and Holmes Boulevard in Terrytown.
Professor Ciolino told a three-judge panel Gasser's conviction should be tossed.
He called trial testimony about Gasser's arrest for an alleged road-rage incident a decade earlier a "sneaky pile of prejudicial evidence."
"The minute those jurors heard in 2006 there was a similar incident at the same intersection I believe it was difficult for them to process the evidence that came in about this possible shooting," Ciolino said.
Prosecutor Darren Allemand argued the evidence showed intent and pattern of behavior.
"When (Gasser) has road-rage, he attacks somebody and claims self defense," Allemond told the judges ."The only difference here is somebody's dead."
Another major issue on appeal is the 10-2 jury verdict.
Last year Louisiana voters supported a state constitutional amendment requiring unanimous juries for all felony convictions.
The U.S. Supreme Court is already set to consider overturning a criminal conviction in a New Orleans murder case decided by a 10-2 jury vote.
"The elephant in the room is what's going to happen with this Gasser case if the U.S. Supreme Court does what everyone expects which is to find the 10 to 2 jury verdict to be unconstitutional, in violation of the Sixth Amendment," Ciolino said.
Prosecutors argue that the U.S. Supreme Court authorized non-unanimous jury verdicts prior to the law change in Louisiana. They also wrote in their appeal
response that "The defendant now raises this claim to preserve it for future review should the United States Supreme Court change it's mind."
The New Orleans case to be taken up by the high court involves convicted killer Evangelisto Ramos.
A jury found him guilty in 2016 of second-degree murder in the death of 43-year-old Trinece Fedison.
Her body was found stuffed inside a garbage can in Central City.
Ramos is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole.
Back in Jefferson Parish, Ciolino said he and his students are more than ready to appeal the Gasser case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.
The judges took Wednesday's arguments under advisement and are expected to render a decision at a later date.