New Orleans Saints

Cardell Hayes found guilty in shooting death of ex-Saint Will Smith

Family and friends of Cardell Hayes leave Orleans Parish Criminal District Court on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, after Hayes was found guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of former New Orleans Saints star Will Smith.
Family and friends of Cardell Hayes leave Orleans Parish Criminal District Court on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, after Hayes was found guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of former New Orleans Saints star Will Smith. Advocate staff photo

An Orleans Parish jury found Cardell Hayes guilty of manslaughter on Sunday for pumping eight bullets into former New Orleans Saints defensive lineman Will Smith on a late April night in the Lower Garden District.

The jury of eight women and four men, deliberating for just short of six hours at the end of a blockbuster week-long trial, also found Hayes, 29, guilty of attempted manslaughter for a shot that tore through the legs of Smith’s wife, Racquel, in a fracas on the street following a three-car collision.

The jury acquitted Hayes on a third charge of aggravated criminal damage to property, refusing to endorse a claim by prosecutors that he purposefully rammed into Smith’s SUV in retaliation for a bump to the back of Hayes’ Hummer H2 on Magazine Street a short while earlier.

The jury rejected the murder and attempted murder charges that Hayes faced from an April 28 indictment that came a remarkably quick 18 days after he was arrested at the scene of a shooting that captured national headlines.

Skirting a life sentence on the murder count, Hayes still faces 20-to-40 years in prison on the manslaughter count, which includes a sentencing enhancement for the use of a firearm. Orleans Parish Criminal District Judge Camille Buras ordered a pre-sentence report and set a Feb. 17 sentencing date.

Hayes stood quietly as the verdicts were read, then ducked his head and shook it from side to side as he learned the jury had found him guilty. Racquel Smith, sitting in the front row, in the seat she occupied all week but for her turn on the witness stand Tuesday, sobbed loudly in a hushed courtroom upon hearing the verdicts.

Afterward, her late husband’s publicist, Lauren Renschler, issued a statement on Racquel Smith’s behalf that expressed gratitude for the work done by prosecutors Jason Napoli and Laura Rodrigue.

“The main focus of Will Smith’s family is to see Mr. Hayes justly sentenced for the murder he so callously committed,” read the statement. “Will’s dedication to his family, his love for his community and his desire to live life to the fullest will continue to inspire Racquel, (their children) Will Jr., Lisa, Wynter and everyone else who loved him.”

The jury voted 10-2 on both guilty verdicts. They voted unanimously on the acquittal.

In the courtroom for the verdict were Smith’s former New Orleans teammates Pierre Thomas and Deuce McAllister, as well as his ex-coach Sean Payton, who rushed back from the Saints’ game at Tampa Bay on Sunday to watch Buras’ clerk read the verdict returned against Hayes.

Afterwards, Payton gave firm handshakes and hugs to Thomas, McAllister and former New Orleans police captain William “Billy” Ceravolo, who were all witnesses called by the prosecution during Hayes’ trial.

Read more at The Advocate website.

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