As the family of Will Smith began preparing to bury him this weekend, the New Orleans Police Department revealed a potentially significant new finding Tuesday in the investigation into the former Saint’s death following a minor, three-vehicle collision Saturday night in the Lower Garden District.
Authorities said Cardell Hayes, the 28-year-old dog breeder and tow truck company owner accused of fatally shooting Smith after hitting his SUV, wasn’t the only person on the scene with potential access to a gun.
Detectives who searched Smith’s Mercedes G63 on Tuesday morning said they found a fully loaded 9 mm handgun inside. Police have not said who owned the weapon or where in the SUV it was found, but its presence could lend credence to a theory of self-defense for Hayes.
However, police said they found “no ballistic evidence” to show that the weapon in Smith’s SUV was fired during the encounter between the two men.
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Police accuse Hayes of shooting Smith, 34, in the back and right torso with a .45-caliber handgun after crashing into the longtime Saints defensive end’s vehicle with his Hummer H2.
Hayes’ defense attorney, John Fuller, has maintained his client was not the aggressor in the confrontation. Fuller said the entire incident began not at Sophie Wright Place and Felicity Street — where Smith was shot and died — but a few blocks uptown, when someone rear-ended Hayes’ vehicle in the 2000 block of Magazine Street.
New video obtained by The Advocate and other outlets seemed to bolster that claim: It appears to show whoever was driving Smith’s SUV apparently hitting the back of Hayes’ rust-red Hummer in front of Juan’s Flying Burrito, then driving away without stopping to exchange information or check on the damage.
As police and video evidence complicated the narrative of the killing, a well-known former Saints player took to Facebook to express his frustration over the death of his friend and former teammate, and to confirm that he was a witness to the fatal shooting.
Read more from our partners at theneworleansadvocate.com