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Jury finds man guilty of killing Saints defensive end Will Smith

By Mandy Donalds
January 28, 2024

A New Orleans jury found Cardell Hayes guilty of manslaughter in the 2016 shooting of former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith.

In a trial that revisited a nearly eight-year-old case, a New Orleans jury delivered a guilty verdict against Cardell Hayes for the manslaughter of Smith, a former defensive end for the Saints.

The decision came after a dispute that escalated from a vehicle collision in April 2016. Smith was fatally shot, and his wife, Racquel, was wounded in the incident. Hayes, previously convicted in 2016, faced a retrial due to procedural issues, as reported by FOX News.

The long road to a second conviction

Hayes, 36, was initially found guilty in December 2016.

However, due to changes in jury requirements and the COVID-19 pandemic affecting court schedules, his case was reopened. This retrial culminated in another conviction for Hayes, who did not testify in court.

The jury, complying with a now-outdated Louisiana law, reached a 10-2 decision.

Under current laws, this would be considered a non-unanimous verdict, a practice the U.S. Supreme Court has since deemed unconstitutional. Hayes, having already served part of a 25-year sentence, could face up to 40 years in prison.

Clashing perspectives in the courtroom

District Attorney Jason Williams argued that Hayes fired his weapon without justification.

He emphasized the severity of the act by displaying the gun used in the shooting. Williams highlighted that the gun was used to shoot Smith multiple times and injure his wife.

By way of contrast, defense attorney John Fuller maintained that Hayes acted in self-defense. He pointed to a 911 call where Hayes claimed Smith had threatened to retrieve a gun. Fuller argued that the prosecution failed to disprove Hayes' self-defense claim.

Defense team's stance and future plans

Furthering their defense, Hayes' legal team contested the prosecution's portrayal of the events. They challenged the notion that Racquel Smith had managed to calm her husband before Hayes opened fire.

Another of Hayes' attorneys, Sarah Chervinsky, expressed disagreement with the verdict.

She indicated their intent to file an appeal, asserting Hayes' innocence.

"We believe the correct verdict would have been ‘not guilty’ on both counts," Chervinsky stated, signaling the defense's commitment to continue their legal battle.

A controversial figure's background

Hayes, aside from this high-profile case, is known as the former owner of a tow truck business.

He also briefly played semi-professional football and is a father.

On the night of the incident, evidence showed that Smith was intoxicated. However, no conclusive evidence supported Hayes' claim that Smith had a weapon or posed a direct threat.

Remembering Will Smith

Will Smith, remembered as a key player for the Saints, notably contributed to the team's success post-Hurricane Katrina.

His role in the team's journey to a Super Bowl win in 2010 left a lasting impact on the New Orleans community.

The incident, resulting in his tragic death, not only shocked the sports world but also reopened wounds for a city still healing from past tragedies.

Racquel Smith and her family, who have endured the prolonged legal battle, expressed their emotional journey through the trials. They highlighted the difficulties of reliving traumatic events and their determination to seek justice for Will Smith.

"Each time we stepped into this courthouse, we were forced to relive the worst moments of our lives," the Smith family stated, emphasizing their commitment to seeking justice.


  • Cardell Hayes found guilty of manslaughter in the 2016 shooting of NFL player Will Smith.
  • The jury's decision came after a retrial due to changes in legal procedures and the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Prosecution and defense presented conflicting views on the justification of Hayes' actions.
  • Hayes' defense team plans to appeal the verdict, insisting on his innocence.
  • Will Smith's legacy as a Saints player and his family's pursuit of justice highlighted.