Will Smith case: Cardell Hayes found guilty of manslaughter in fatal shooting of ex-Saints player

Last Updated Dec 12, 2016 2:20 AM EST

NEW ORLEANS — A Louisiana jury found Cardell Hayes guilty of manslaughter late Sunday night in the shooting death of former New Orleans Saints star Will Smith, CBS News correspondent David Begnaud reported. 

Hayes was also found not guilty of second degree murder, and guilty of attempted manslaughter for shooting Smith’s wife, Racquel Smith, Begnaud reported. 

“Because of the upcoming sentencing hearing, in which Racquel will provide a victim impact statement, she does not feel it is appropriate to comment on the facts of the case at this time,” her lawyer said in an emailed news release. “The main focus of Will Smith’s family is to see Mr. Hayes justly sentenced for the murder he so callously committed.”

Hayes’ family members and friends exited the court without commenting.

“We respect the jury’s verdict … we’ll regroup tomorrow and see what the next approach is. We continue to pray for all families.”

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said in a news release that he would have a news conference Monday.

Saints coach Sean Payton arrived at the courthouse and was present when the verdict was read. 

Jury deliberations began Sunday evening in Hayes’ trial for shooting Smith after an April 9 car crash. 

Hayes, 29, took the stand a day earlier to tell jurors he only fired after Smith pulled a gun from his damaged SUV following that crash — and only after hearing what he thought was a gunshot as Smith and another man berated him after the crash. 

“I knew I was going to get shot. I was probably gonna die,” Hayes testified, according to CBS affiliate WWL. “I know for a fact I was going to get shot.”  

But, during the week-long trial, Hayes was the only witness to say Smith handled a gun that night. 

will smith

Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints against the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 7, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Prosecutors said he was lying and that ballistics tests indicated that the only gun fired was fired by Hayes.

State district Judge Camille Buras told jurors they could find Hayes not guilty, guilty as charged or guilty of the lesser crimes of manslaughter or negligent homicide. The second-degree murder charge carried a mandatory life sentence.

Hayes also was charged with attempted second-degree murder for the wounding of Racquel Smith, and aggravated criminal damage to property for allegedly ramming Smith’s SUV in the run-up to the shooting.

More than three hours after being given the case, jurors asked for more information on the possible lesser verdicts, and to have the law read to them again regarding burden of proof and self-defense. 

Orleans Parish Criminal District Judge Camille Buras sent the four men and eight women to deliberate at 4:53 p.m. after hearing almost five hours of closing arguments and a rebuttal from Assistant District Attorneys Jason Napoli and Laura Rodrigue, and defense attorney John Fuller, CBS affiliate WWL reported.

Fuller warned jurors not to be “star-struck” by the array of past and present New Orleans Saints stars who visited the week long trial to show support for Smith’s family.

“This young man tried his best, trying to avoid doing what he had to do,” Fuller shouted during a thundering closing argument that lasted more than three and a half hours.

Prosecutors said Racqel Hayes was hit by a gunshot that tore into her leg after she had calmed her angry husband down at the crash scene.

“She then listened as the love of her life, the father of her children, was executed,” Napoli said in closing arguments, noting that Hayes fired into Smith’s body eight times, once in the side, seven in the back. 

Alongwith coach Payton, Saints quarterback Drew Brees and former running back Deuce McAllister were among those who attended parts of the week long trial. Former Saints safety Steve Gleason, battling Lou Gehrig’s disease, watched closing arguments Sunday from his wheelchair in the courtroom’s middle aisle.

Napoli dismissed defense claims that a drunken Smith was the aggressor and that Hayes was defending himself in accordance with Louisiana’s “stand your ground” law. That law doesn’t apply, Napoli said, because Hayes was the aggressor and was engaged in a criminal act, having armed himself after he purposely rammed his Hummer into Smith’s Mercedes SUV.

A loaded gun was found in Smith’s vehicle but a firearms expert said there was no evidence Smith brandished or fired it.

Fuller told jurors that Hayes was the victim of an incomplete investigation. He said police failed to take a DNA sample from a cup found on the crime scene. (Hayes said Smith had thrown a drink cup at him at the beginning of their confrontation).

Fuller also said investigators failed to obtain video from a bar and two restaurants that Smith had visited with friends prior to the shooting, video that might have helped in gauging Smith’s temperament that night.

A pathologist’s report showed Smith was legally drunk, with a high alcohol level at the time of his death. He was driving with a group of friends traveling in multiple cars when his SUV appeared to lightly bump Hayes’ Hummer — a bump captured on surveillance videos. Smith then drove off, with Hayes in pursuit.

Hayes vehemently denied that he intentionally rammed Smith’s vehicle several blocks later. He told the jury that he was trying to dial 911 and didn’t realize how close they were as he tried to report a hit-and-run.

Hayes is a small business owner, former semi-professional football player and father of a 6-year-old son. He said he’s an admirer of Smith’s career and didn’t realize the man he killed was Smith until hours after the shooting, while he was in police custody. 

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