New Orleans Saints

Trial set for man accused of killing ex-Saint Will Smith

Will Smith
Will Smith

Cardell Hayes, the New Orleans tow truck driver accused of murder in the April shooting death of former Saints defensive lineman Will Smith, appeared in court Wednesday for a final hearing before a trial scheduled to begin in a month.

Prosecutors with Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office turned over the last pieces of evidence related to the investigation into the three-car collision and shooting that left Smith dead and his wife wounded late on April 9 on a Lower Garden District street.

That evidence included seven different FBI reports related to the investigation, and a body cam video, said Assistant District Attorney Jason Napoli.

The FBI was involved in looking at the actions of former New Orleans Police Capt. William Ceravolo, a friend of the Smiths who showed up at the shooting scene minutes later.

Both sides said they were ready to proceed with a Dec. 1 trial date. Rarely do Orleans Parish murder cases reach trial so quickly.

Hayes, 29, is accused of second-degree murder in the killing of Smith, who suffered eight gunshot wounds - seven to the back - and died slumped in the driver’s seat of his Mercedes SUV.

Hayes also faces an attempted murder count for allegedly shooting Smith’s wife, Racquel Smith, once in each leg during the street altercation on Sophie Wright Place. He also faces counts of aggravated assault with a firearm and aggravated criminal damage to property from an April 28 grand jury indictment.

Hayes’ attorneys, John Fuller and Jay Daniels, appear set to present a self-defense argument to a jury.

They claim Hayes was not the aggressor and “legally not guilty” in the shootings. In media interviews, Hayes’ friend and passenger that night, Kevin O’Neal, has described being rushed by Smith and other members of his party and fending off swings prior to the gunfire.

Fuller also suggested that Smith, whose blood alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit, was out of control, threatened Hayes and was returning to his SUV to retrieve a gun when he was shot.

An attorney for Smith’s family has described Hayes as being “obviously enraged or deranged” during the fracas and a “cold-blooded murderer.”

Police did not initially acknowledge the presence of a gun in Smith’s vehicle. Based on testimony presented during a truncated preliminary hearing in the case, Hayes’ attorneys may argue to the jury that the investigation was tainted by Ceravolo, the former police captain who dined with the Smiths that night.

Hayes’ defense team claims to have spoken to a witness who said she saw Ceravolo pluck a gun from Smith’s SUV as the Super Bowl champion lay dead over the steering wheel, his feet outside the vehicle.

An attorney for Ceravolo has vigorously denied that claim, saying Ceravolo got nowhere near Smith’s car, but rather had sped to the shooting scene and went straight to Racquel Smith as she lay wounded on the sidewalk.

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