Manslaughter conviction in death of ex-NFL star Will Smith


Manslaughter conviction in death of ex-NFL star Will Smith

NEW ORLEANS - The man who fatally shot retired New Orleans Saints defensive leader Will Smith was convicted of manslaughter on Sunday night, ending a week-long trial in which the defendant insisted he only fired because the popular football star was drunk, violent and had grabbed a gun following a traffic crash on the night of April 9.

Smith was part of the Saints team that lifted the stricken city's spirits in the years after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, helping carry the team to a winning season in 2006 and a Super Bowl win four years later. His death at the hands of Cardell Hayes, 29, was stunning, even for a city where residents are accustomed to reports of multiple gunfire deaths every week.

Hayes faces a possible sentence of up to 40 years in prison at his sentencing on Feb. 17. Jurors opted for the lesser charge rather than second-degree murder, which would have carried a mandatory life sentence.

He also was convicted of attempted manslaughter for wounding Smith's wife.

Hayes' defense lawyers said Smith's popularity led to a rush to judgment by police and prosecutors.

"I knew for a fact that I was going to get shot," Hayes told the jury after taking the stand in his own defense Saturday. He said he not only saw the gun but heard what he believes was a gunshot before he began firing.

Hayes, however, was the only witness to say Smith armed himself that night. Prosecutors acknowledged that a loaded gun was found in Smith's car but said there was no evidence that it was ever fired or that Smith had grabbed it.

A pathologist report showed Smith was legally drunk with a high blood-alcohol level that night, the end of a day in which he had spent time at the city's annual French Quarter Festival, a bar and two restaurants. He, his wife and two passengers were in his Mercedes SUV the night of the shooting. They were heading from New Orleans' Lower Garden District toward downtown when a series of events led to the shooting, beginning with Smith's vehicle appearing to lightly bump Hayes' Hummer - although the prosecution raised doubts that the two vehicles actually touched.

Hayes vehemently denied intentionally running into Smith's Mercedes SUV moments later - he said he was trying to dial 911 and didn't realize how close he was getting to Smith as he tried to report the apparent hit-and-run.

Hayes said he armed himself only after he and his own 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 from defense lawyer John Fuller.

Hayes testified that Smith addressed him with a racial epithet and then told him, "... you got your gun. Well I'm going to get mine and I'll show you what to do with it."

Hayes said Hernandez, a white Hispanic who fled the scene, also used racial epithets.

However, race has not been raised as an alleged factor in the confrontation. Hayes and Kevin O'Neal, his passenger, are black, and so was Smith.

On cross examination, Assistant Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Napoli repeatedly noted that no other witness said Smith had a gun and that Hayes never told investigators he saw a gun in Smith's hands that night.

"I never gave a full statement to anyone," Hayes said, growing testy as Napoli asked about inconsistencies in his testimony and past statements.

Hayes also insisted he never shot Racquel Smith, although Napoli said ballistics evident indicates otherwise.

Calm and sometimes smiling during his early testimony, Hayes' voice broke a bit as he talked about being separated from his 6-year-old son. Hayes has been jailed since the shooting. Hayes owns a tow truck business and also said he breeds dogs. He discussed his high school and college football career, his time as a semi-pro football player and his admiration for Smith. He said he didn't recognize Smith the night of the shooting and grew despondent hours later upon learning he had killed the beloved football star.

"I cried like a baby," he said.

"I said my life's over with ... They're going to make me like I just shot and killed this man."

What Bill Belichick's pro day tour tells us about Patriots draft strategy

What Bill Belichick's pro day tour tells us about Patriots draft strategy

It’s one of the rites of spring. This is the time of year NFL fans across America overemphasize the importance of their team’s coach or general manager popping up at a particular program’s pro day. You can set your watch to it. 

Coach X showed up at University Y so you KNOW he wants Player Z!

The pro day circuit is just one aspect of the pre-draft preparation process for NFL clubs, though. The information gleaned from stops on college campuses through March and early April is, as Bill Belichick might say, just part of the evaluation mosaic. 

The tape matters. The combine matters. Private workouts matter. Official visits matter. Claiming a meeting or an interview between a player and a club at any one of these spots will dictate a draft-day match is foolhardy. 

Still . . . it's interesting to track teams’ whereabouts in order to see if any trends develop.

Here we'll lay out where the two primary players in the Patriots front office, Belichick and Nick Caserio, have been spotted over the last couple weeks since pro days kicked off. Their itinerary may be nothing but a sliver of a view into where the team's interests lay, but we’ll take that sliver with the understanding that it is what it is.


Belichick made his seemingly annual trip to the University of Alabama to catch up with old friend Nick Saban and see some of the college game's top prospects. The Crimson Tide could have more than a dozen players drafted, and most of their top prospects reside on the defensive side of the ball. Receiver Calvin Ridley, defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne shoild be long gone by the time the Patriots pick at No. 31, but there are plenty of other talented defenders they could have a shot at. Linebacker Rashaan Evans (6-foot-3, 234) would be an interesting fit for a defense that could use an addition to its second level. Defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (6-4, 297) is intriguing because of his versatility as a base end who could rush from the inside in sub situations. Safety Ronnie Harrison (6-3, 214) also seems like a Patriots type. Even punter JK Scott could be on their radar. 


Caserio headed to Wisconsin's pro day, where linebacker Jack Cichy posted a very strong short-shuttle (4.28 seconds) and three-cone times (7.10). He's an off-the-ball type who measured in at 6-foot-2, 234 pounds and is projected by to go on Day 3. The Badgers don't have quite as many pro prospects as Alabama, but they have seven or eight who could hear their names called on draft weekend. Corner Nick Nelson (5-11, 208) and edge defender Leon Jacobs (6-3, 230) were two of Wisconsin's best players, and would’ve been worth a look from the Patriots director of player personnel. 


Belichick kept a close eye on the defensive linemen participating in NC State's pro day Monday. Bradley Chubb is expected to be the first defensive player taken in the draft so the Patriots won't have a shot at him (which Belichick admitted to Chubb following the workout), but defensive tackle BJ Hill (6-4, 315) may have been of interest. He's thought of as a mid-rounder after a very strong showing at the Senior Bowl and a solid combine. Kentavius Street (6-2, 280) is really powerful as a defensive end and could be had toward the end of the draft. Belichick also reportedly spent some time watching backs Nyheim Hines (5-8, 197) and Jaylen Samuels (5-11, 233) run routes. 

Caserio, meanwhile, kept a close eye on the workout put together by Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside (6-2, 201). Our Mike Giardi put together a piece on Woodside, who tested well at the combine and is considered to have a good football IQ, earlier this offseason. Read it. Caserio was joined at Toledo by Patriots scout Patrick Stewart, who was also present for Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta's pro day.


Belichick went from NC State to South Carolina where he reportedly met with tight end Hayden Hurst for the second time. Hurst (6-4, 250), a walk-on who played two years of minor-league baseball, may be the first tight end taken in this year's draft. Linebacker Skai Moore (6-2, 221) was extremely productive for the Gamecocks, leading the team in tackles all four years of his career, which Belichick clearly appreciated. Moore told reporters after his pro day work out that he met with Belichick for an hour and that Belichick told him he's a great player. Belichick and Moore also met at the combine, Moore said.

So what can we make of Belichick and Caserio's stops thus far? We’re careful not to make too much of these stops visits, but here are some quick-hitting thoughts . . .

* They appear to want more information on the draft's second (or third) tier of quarterbacks. It should come as no surprise that the Patriots won't be in the running to select passers like USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen or Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield. But the group that includes Woodside, Lauletta and others -- perhaps Washington State's Luke Falk, whose pro day will be at Utah State on Mar. 28, Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph, and Western Kentucky's Mike White -- seems to be of interest.

* Are the Patriots looking for their next playmaker at tight end? Even with Rob Gronkowski on the roster (assuming he returns in 2018) the Patriots could use another pass-catcher at this spot. Their interest in Hurst is intriguing. If they pop up at South Dakota State's pro day on Mar. 30 -- home of Dallas Goedert -- then that might be an indication they are considering a running mate and heir apparent for Gronkowski. 

* Outside of offensive tackle, off-the-ball linebacker might be the biggest need the Patriots have not addressed via trade or free agency this offseason. It would come as little surprise if they opted for a rookie (or two) who play that position in this year's draft. Evans is among the draft's most talented at that spot, but there are some questions around the league as to whether or not he'd be the traffic cop that, for instance, Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower have been for the Patriots. Getting a closer look at Cichy and Moore would also seem to indicate that New England is taking a close look at a newer (smaller) breed at that spot. Belichick has long liked bigger linebackers, but as the speed of the game picks up perhaps he’ll be more open to going small(ish) here. The Patriots were represented at Viriginia Tech's pro day on Mar. 14 (home of top linebacker prospect Tremaine Edmunds) and it'll be interesting to see if they show up at Boise State (home of Leighton Vander Esch) on April 3. Belichick is reportedly headed to Georgia's pro day on Wednesday, where he'll have a chance to see athletic off-the-ball 'backer Roquan Smith and athletic edge player Lorenzo Carter. Either would immediately provide the Patriots front-seven with a shot of athleticism. 

* That Belichick has seen a boatload of talented defensive linemen at Alabama and NC State isn't a shocker. While they may not have a glaring need up front for 2018 — especially after trading for Danny Shelton and signing Adrian Clayborn — both Shelton and Malcom Brown could be elsewhere in 2019 if the Patriots don't pick up their fifth-year options. Trey Flowers is also headed into a contract year. 


Quick Slants the Podcast: Ranking the Patriots additions, are the Patriots better defensively, but worse offensively?

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Quick Slants the Podcast: Ranking the Patriots additions, are the Patriots better defensively, but worse offensively?

Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry go over the moves the Patriots have made this offseason and rank their favorite moves and what to expect from those players.

(1:00) Ranking the Patriots acquisitions so far.

(5:30) Will Danny Shelton or Jason McCourty have a bigger impact n the Patriots defense?

(13:00) What can Patriots fans realistically expect from Cordarrelle Patterson?

(16:00) Are the Patriots a better team now than they were at the end of the Super Bowl?

(17:00) What is the next position in need for the Patriots?

(23:00) How concerning is the tension level between Belichick/Brady/Gronkowski, when should Patriots fans start to panic?