After 5½ hours of deliberations, a jury returned with the verdict, finding Cardell Hayes guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith and attempted manslaughter for shooting and injuring Smith’s wife, Racquel.
The verdict ended a weeklong trial in which the defendant insisted he fired only because Smith was drunk and violent and had grabbed a gun following a traffic crash on the night of April 9.
The charge of manslaughter carries up to 40 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 17 at Orleans Criminal District Court, according to ESPN.
The Orleans Parish jury dismissed a second-degree murder charge, which would have carried a mandatory life sentence, as well as a charge of attempted second-degree murder, and he was found not guilty of aggravated criminal damage to property, which means it did not find him guilty of intentionally crashing into Smith’s car.
The jury was allowed to consider manslaughter, which indicates the shooter intended to kill but that the crime was committed in a sudden passion sufficient to deprive the average person of self-control or clear reflection.
A pathologist report showed that Smith was legally drunk with a high blood-alcohol level that night as he was out with his wife and two passengers. The altercation began when Smith’s vehicle appeared to bump Hayes’ Hummer then drove off. Hayes followed him but denied intentionally running into Smith’s SUV moments later, saying he was trying to dial 911 to report the apparent hit-and-run. Hayes said he armed himself only after he and his passenger were accosted by Smith and Richard Hernandez, a passenger in the Smiths’ Mercedes.
Hernandez, he said, wildly stripped off his shirt and took something shiny from his pocket. Hayes said he was afraid it was a knife. Smith didn’t initially notice the gun, Hayes said. He said Smith, 34, threw a cup containing some type of alcohol at him and punched him repeatedly. At some point during the fast-unfolding melee, Hernandez alerted Smith to Hayes’ gun, Hayes said under questioning by Fuller.
Smith was shot eight times, and Racquel was shot through both legs while she was in proximity to her husband, trying to pull him away from the heated argument, according to multiple witnesses. A fully loaded gun was later found in Smith’s car by police but there was no evidence that it was fired.