Cardell Hayes walks into the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court for his retrial in New Orleans on Jan. 26, 2024. (David Grunfeld/The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate via AP)
NEW ORLEANS—A man who shot former New Orleans Saints star Will Smith following a traffic crash nearly eight years ago has been convicted of manslaughter.
The jury deliberated for more than four hours and reached its verdict in the retrial of Cardell Hayes just after midnight Saturday, news outlets reported. He faces up to 40 years in prison.
The jury acquitted Mr. Hayes of attempted manslaughter in the shooting and wounding of Smith’s wife during the April 2016 confrontation.
Mr. Hayes, 36, had previously been convicted in December 2016 of manslaughter in Smith’s death and attempted manslaughter for the gunshot wounding of Racquel Smith. But the jury vote was 10–2 and the conviction was tossed after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed nonunanimous verdicts. Mr. Hayes was released on bond after having served more than four years of a 25-year sentence.
His retrial was delayed for various reasons, including court closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prosecutors rested their case against Mr. Hayes on Friday and the defense chose not to call witnesses after that.
The city’s top prosecutor insisted during his closing argument that Hayes fired needlessly.
“One gun was fired by one man,” District Attorney Jason Williams said, holding in the air the evidence-tagged handgun Mr. Hayes fired, hitting Smith eight times—seven in the back—and also hitting Smith’s wife in the legs.
Defense attorney John Fuller insisted prosecutors had not proven Mr. Hayes did not act in self-defense. Mr. Fuller pointed to a recording of a 911 call made soon after the shooting in which Hayes can be heard in the background claiming Smith had stated he intended to get a gun from his car.
Mr. Fuller sought to refute prosecutors’ claims that Racquel Smith had calmed her husband down by the time Mr. Hayes opened fire.
“You don’t say ‘Calm down it’s not worth it’ if you don’t have to say ‘Calm down it’s not worth it,’” he said, referring to prosecution testimony about Ms. Racquel Smith’s efforts to defuse the argument.
Evidence showed Will Smith was intoxicated at the time of the confrontation. But there was no witness or forensic evidence to back up Hayes’ claim that Smith had wielded or fired a weapon.
Smith, a 34-year-old father of three, was a defensive leader on the Saints team that lifted spirits in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005. He helped carry the team to a winning season in 2006 and a Super Bowl victory in 2010.
Mr. Hayes, who owned a tow truck business, once played semi-pro football. He has one son.
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