Cardell Hayes, the 29-year-old man who shot and killed ex-NFL star Will Smith during an April 9 road rage incident, has been convicted of manslaughter and faces 40 years in prison.
An Orleans Parish jury returned the verdict on Sunday night, which also included an attempted manslaughter conviction in the shooting of Smith’s wife.
Cardell Hayes’ claim that he shot former Saints star Will Smith dead in self-defense was rejected Sunday night (Dec. 11) by a New Orleans jury that voted 10-2 to convict him of manslaughter.
The player’s widow, Racquel Smith, burst into tears after the verdict was read. Hayes faced a life sentence if convicted of second-degree murder, but can only be sentenced up to 40 years for manslaughter. Members of Hayes’ family also wept at the verdict.
Hayes, a 29-year-old tow truck driver from New Orleans East, admitted that he fatally shot the retired Pro Bowl defensive end in the heat of an April 9 traffic dispute in the Lower Garden District. Hayes said the homicide was justified, claiming that Smith, 34, shot at him first. Prosecutors said the gun and bullet described by Hayes existed only in the imagination of a defendant desperate to save his own skin.
The jurors, who deliberated for 5 hours and 40 minutes, also voted 10-2 to convict Hayes of attempted manslaughter for shooting Racquel Smith, but unanimously acquitted Hayes of aggravated criminal damage to property, deciding he didn’t intentionally ram the Smiths’ Mercedes-Benz SUV with his Hummer H2, after contending that a drunken Smith rear-ended him first on Magazine Street.
Hayes will be sentenced by Criminal District Judge Camille Buras on Feb. 17.
The verdict “was a victory for the Smith family as well as the citizens of New Orleans,” Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office spokesman Christopher Bowman said in a statement on behalf of DA Leon Cannizzaro. He said the district attorney was “gratified” by the verdict and would hold a press conference Monday.
Popular Bounce artist, Big Freedia, is Cardell Hayes’ cousin and she has been very vocal asking her fans to “Pray for Bear.”