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By Rampart Stonebridge, updated on January 27, 2024

Man Found Guilty In Killing Of Ex-Saints DE Will Smith

In a decisive retrial, Cardell Hayes has been found guilty of manslaughter in the death of former New Orleans Saints star Will Smith. This verdict comes after a tumultuous legal journey, marked by an overturned conviction and a global pandemic.

Cardell Hayes was convicted for the manslaughter of Will Smith, following a retrial nearly eight years after the tragic incident.

The incident, dating back to April 2016, stemmed from a traffic crash that quickly escalated into a fatal confrontation.

Hayes, a former semi-pro football player who ran a tow truck business, found himself embroiled in a deadly altercation with Smith, a revered figure in New Orleans for his role in the Saints' post-Katrina recovery and Super Bowl triumph.

Unraveling the threads of a complex case

Hayes' defense, throughout the trial, maintained that he acted in self-defense, fearing for his life during the confrontation with Smith. This claim was centered around the belief that Smith, who was under the influence at the time, had retrieved a gun.

However, District Attorney Jason Williams starkly contradicted this defense, asserting that Hayes was the sole aggressor, shooting Smith eight times and injuring Smith's wife, Racquel.

The jury's decision, which could see Hayes facing up to 40 years in prison, marks a significant turn from his initial trial in December 2016. At that time, Hayes was convicted of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter, a verdict later overturned due to a Supreme Court ruling against nonunanimous jury verdicts.

This retrial, delayed for various reasons including the COVID-19 pandemic, concluded without the defense calling any witnesses, leading directly to closing arguments and the jury's deliberation.

Racquel Smith, injured in the incident, was a silent reminder of the night's tragic outcome. Hayes was acquitted of the attempted manslaughter charge concerning her, a decision that adds another layer of complexity to a case already dense with legal and emotional intricacies.

The human cost of a night gone wrong

Amidst the legal battles and arguments, it's crucial to remember the human element at the heart of this tragedy. Will Smith, aged 34 at the time of his death, was not just a football icon; he was a father of three, a husband, and a symbol of resilience for a city that had fought hard to rebuild itself. His untimely death left a void in the hearts of many, a sentiment echoed throughout the New Orleans community.

Assistant District Attorney Matt Derbes highlighted the fact that Smith was intoxicated during the confrontation. This acknowledgment does not diminish the gravity of the loss but adds another layer of tragedy to the narrative. It's a stark reminder of how quickly situations can escalate and the irreversible consequences that can follow.

For Hayes, the road ahead is filled with uncertainty. Having already served more than four years of a 25-year sentence before his release on bond, the new conviction brings back the grim reality of prison life.

At 36 years old, his life, much like that of Smith's, has been irrevocably altered by the events of that fateful night.

District Attorney Jason Williams said, "One gun was fired by one man. That man was Cardell Hayes, and his actions took away not just a football star, but a father, a husband, and a pillar of our community."

This statement by Williams encapsulates the weight of the tragedy and the responsibility placed on Hayes' shoulders by the jury's verdict. It's a somber reminder of the finality of actions and the irreplaceable loss endured by the Smith family and the wider New Orleans community.

Lessons to learn from this tragedy

In the wake of this harrowing event, there are several lessons to be learned. These are not just legal takeaways but life lessons that each of us can apply to help safeguard our communities and ourselves.

Firstly, it's crucial to remember the unpredictable nature of road rage and confrontations. A minor traffic incident escalated into a deadly encounter, a stark reminder to manage our emotions and responses in stressful situations. Secondly, the presence of alcohol can severely impair judgment. Smith's intoxication, as noted by Assistant District Attorney Matt Derbes, potentially played a role in the tragic turn of events.

Thirdly, self-defense claims in violent encounters are complex and often scrutinized in a court of law. Hayes' claim of self-defense, while a central aspect of his defense strategy, was ultimately not enough to sway

the jury. Lastly, it's important to remember that no matter what precautions we take, crime can happen to anyone. We should never blame the victim for the circumstances leading to their victimization.

Each of these points serves as a reminder that our actions, however small they may seem at the moment, can have far-reaching and irreversible consequences.

Why this story matters

This case holds significant importance for the community, not just as a high-profile legal battle but as a reflection of deeper societal issues. It highlights the enduring impact of gun violence on families and communities, the complexities of self-defense laws, and the legal implications of nonunanimous jury verdicts. Moreover, it underscores the need for responsible behavior in potentially volatile situations and the importance of judicial processes in upholding justice.

The tragedy of Will Smith's death and the subsequent legal saga of Cardell Hayes serves as a poignant reminder of the fragility of life and the enduring impact of a moment's decision. This story is not just about a football star and a former semi-pro player; it's about a community grappling with loss, justice, and the search for closure.

  • Cardell Hayes was found guilty of manslaughter in the death of Will Smith.
  • The incident originated from a traffic crash in April 2016.
  • The defense claimed self-defense, while the prosecution emphasized Hayes as the sole shooter.
  • Original conviction overturned due to nonunanimous verdict; retrial delayed by a pandemic.
  • Will Smith is remembered as a key figure in New Orleans' post-Katrina era.

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Written By: Rampart Stonebridge

I'm Rampart Stonebridge, a curious and passionate writer who can't get enough of true crime. As a criminal investigative journalist, I put on my detective hat, delving deep into each case to reveal the hidden truths. My mission? To share engaging stories and shed light on the complexities of our mysterious world, all while satisfying your curiosity about the intriguing realm of true crime.

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