Photo: David Goldman
A New Orleans courtroom was full Sunday night as the jury announced the verdict in the Will Smith murder case. In April of this year, retired NFL player Will Smith was shot eight times during what has been described as a road rage incident. Right before 11:30 p.m., Smith and his wife were returning from dinner when they ran into the back of another vehicle. The owner of that vehicle, Cardell Hayes, followed Smith after Smith sped off from the scene. Hayes crashed into the back of Smith's car, which resulted in Smith crashing into a third vehicle. Both Smith and Hayes stepped out of their vehicles and got into a "heated exchange." Hayes, who was armed, shot Smith's wife before shooting Smith eight times, seven of which were in his back. Law enforcement officials determined that Smith was not armed at the time of the incident, but did have a firearm in his SUV that he had not fired.
Hayes maintained his self-defense argument during the trial and testified that he couldn't stop his gun. "I see a gun in his hand. I saw him spin out and then I heard, 'pop.' I was trying to stop my gun from actually shooting. I didn't expect it to actually go off that many times," Hayes testified, according to WVUE. "My weapon falls, and when I looked at Smith I said, 'Man, breathe, breathe. Somebody call an ambulance.'"
Raquel Smith took the stand and, in an emotional testimony, spoke to her husband's killer. "I collapsed and played dead because I didn't know if he was gonna come back and shoot me," Racquel Smith said during the trial."You didn't have to do that to me, you didn't have to shoot me. I just thank God I'm still with my babies."
The courtroom was full of Smith's former teammates and the Saints' Head Coach Sean Payton, former NFL Saints players Pierre Thomas and Deuce McAallister were in attendance. Bounce artist Big Freedia was also present to support Hayes, her cousin.
A jury of four men and eight women deliberated for five hours before finding Cardell Hayes guilty of manslaughter in the case of Will Smith and guilty of attempted manslaughter in the case of Smith's wife, Raquel. Hayes faces up to 40 years in jail and is scheduled to be sentenced early next year.
This has been a tough case for Saints fans and residents of New Orleans. Deuce McAllister spoke on the verdict outside of the courthouse."It's not a win for anybody. It was a tough situation. There was no way either side could win."There are no winners in this tough situation."
This is one of two traffic-based incidents in New Orleans that has resulted in an NFL player being killed in the past year. The second being Joe Mcknight, which took place across the crescent city connection in Jefferson Parish, just a bridge away from New Orleans.