Cardell Hayes Found Guilty in Shooting Death of Will Smith
On Monday, a jury found Cardell Hayes guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith. He was also found guilty of attempted manslaughter in the non-fatal shooting of Smith’s wife, Racquel.
Hayes shot and killed Smith on the evening of April 9th in New Orleans following an alleged minor traffic crash. Smith’s vehicle reportedly rear-ended Hayes’ Hummer, resulting in a verbal and physical confrontation between the men. Smith was shot eight times, including seven times in the back. Racquel was hit in both legs by a single shot and had to be hospitalized.
Hayes’s manslaughter charges carry a maximum of 40 years in prison. However, he was found not guilty of aggravated criminal damage to a vehicle, which clears him of having rammed Smith’s car intentionally. Earlier in the trial the jury dismissed a charge of second-degree murder, which could have carried a life sentence. Hayes will be sentenced on February 17th at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.
Hayes, 29, testified that he acted in self-defense, and that he feared for his life during the incident. He claimed that Smith was the instigator in the confrontation and that Smith was drunk, angry and physically aggressive.
An autopsy indicated that Smith was legally drunk with a high blood-alcohol level the night of the shooting. He, his wife and a couple of friends had spent the day at the French Quarter Festival.
Hayes said he only shot Smith after it became evident that Smith was returning to his vehicle in order to retrieve a gun of his own. Hayes claimed to have seen Smith grab the weapon, though he was the only witness to have said so.
Police retrieved a loaded handgun from Smith’s vehicle, but prosecutors say there was no evidence that Smith had handled it that night, nor had it been fired.
Hayes testified that Smith had punched him several times and that he only fired his gun after he saw Smith holding a “black weapon” and he heard a “pop.”
The manslaughter charge indicates that Hayes intended to kill, but acted in a moment of passion so severe that his inhibitions and judgment may have realistically been impaired.
The trial lasted only a week, and the jury needed 5 1⁄2 hours of deliberation to come to a verdict. Defense attorney John Fuller had this to say following the verdict (via ESPN):
“[I will] continue to pray for all the families, not just for them going forward, but to pray for their healing at this terrible time — the Smith family and Cardell’s family.”
Smith, who was 34, played nine seasons in the NFL, all with New Orleans. He earned Pro Bowl honors in 2006 and helped lead the Saints to their first Super Bowl title in 2009. New Orleans drafted him in the first round of the 2004 Draft out of Ohio State. He also won a BCS championship as a member of the Buckeyes in 2002.
Smith retired in 2014 after being released by the Patriots in August of that year. He had inked a deal to join New England that offseason, but failed to make the final 53-man roster.
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