Former Saints Defensive End Will Smith’s Shooter Found Guilty of Manslaughter in Landmark Verdict

New Orleans, Louisiana – A jury in New Orleans deliberated for more than four hours before reaching a guilty verdict in the case of the deadly shooting of former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith. Cardell Hayes, the man accused of shooting Smith following a vehicle crash in April 2016, was convicted of manslaughter for a second time. The altercation began over a dispute regarding whether Smith’s vehicle had hit Hayes’ Hummer.

The jury’s decision could result in Hayes facing up to four decades in prison. The previous conviction in December 2016 also found Hayes guilty of manslaughter in Smith’s death and attempted manslaughter for injuring Smith’s wife, Racquel Smith. In this retrial, Hayes, 36, chose not to take the stand.

The vote of the jury was 10-2, however, nonunanimous verdicts were subsequently outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Hayes had been released on bond after serving more than four years of a 25-year sentence.

Delays in the retrial were attributed to various factors, including court closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prosecutors rested their case against Hayes on Friday, and the defense decided not to call any additional witnesses.

During the closing argument, District Attorney Jason Williams asserted that Hayes had needlessly fired his gun, holding up the evidence-tagged handgun that Hayes used to shoot Smith eight times – seven of which struck Smith in the back – and also injured Smith’s wife.

Defense attorney John Fuller argued that the prosecutors failed to prove that Hayes did not act in self-defense. He referred to a recording of a 911 call made immediately after the shooting, in which Hayes can be heard claiming that Smith intended to retrieve a gun from his car.

Fuller also disputed the prosecution’s claims that Racquel Smith had managed to calm her husband down before Hayes opened fire, stating that her efforts to defuse the argument indicated that there was still a need to calm Smith.

Hayes’ defense team plans to appeal the verdict, believing that the correct outcome should have been “not guilty” on both counts.

Will Smith, a father of three, played a pivotal role on the Saints team that uplifted New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He helped lead the team to a successful season in 2006 and a Super Bowl victory in 2010.

Racquel Smith and her family issued a statement expressing their relief at the conviction, stating that they fought for justice on behalf of Will and that they were able to look their children in the eyes knowing that they had given their all in the pursuit of justice.

This report contains insights and information from The Associated Press.

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