NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Former Saints star Will Smith was “executed” by an irate driver as Smith’s wounded wife lay nearby during the chaos that followed an April 9 traffic accident, a prosecutor told a New Orleans jury Sunday during closing arguments in the shooter’s trial.
But a defense attorney said the defendant, Cardell Hayes, 29, was the victim of a rushed investigation by police reacting to the death of a beloved football star. And he insisted Hayes’ fired in self-defense.
“This young man tried his best, trying to avoid doing what he had to do,” John Fuller shouted during a thundering closing argument. He reminded jurors not to be “star-struck” by the “parade” of Smith’s famous former teammates who attended the weeklong trial.
Hayes, 29, was on trial for second-degree murder in Smith’s death, and attempted second-degree murder in the wounding of Smith’s wife, Racquel. A jury was expected to begin deliberations Sunday.
Saints coach Sean Payton, quarterback Drew Brees, and former running back Deuce McAllister were among those who attended to show support for Smith’s widow – a witness and daily front-row spectator. Former Saints safety Steve Gleason, battling Lou Gehrig’s disease, watched closing arguments Sunday from his wheelchair in the courtroom’s middle aisle.
Racquel Smith was hit first when gunshots rang out on the night of April 9, a bullet tearing through her leg, Assistant Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Napoli told the jury as he recounted the crime in his closing argument.
“She then listened as the love of her life, the father of her children, was executed,” Napoli said, noting that Hayes pumped eight .45-caliber bullets into Smith – one in the side, seven in the back.
Napoli dismissed defense claims that a drunken Smith was the aggressor and that Hayes was defending himself in accordance with Louisiana’s “stand your ground” law.
That law doesn’t apply, Napoli said, because Hayes was the aggressor and was engaged in a criminal act, having armed himself after he purposely rammed his Hummer into Smith’s Mercedes SUV.
Hayes took the stand Saturday, insisting that he only fired after Smith struck him several times and grabbed a gun from his damaged Mercedes – and after he heard what sounded like a gunshot.
“I knew for a fact that I was going to get shot,” Hayes told the jury.
No other witness said Smith was armed. Prosecutors said the loaded gun remained untouched inside Smith’s damaged car.
Fuller told jurors that Hayes was the victim of an incomplete investigation. He said police failed to take a DNA sample from a cup found on the crime scene. (Hayes said Smith had thown a drink cup at him at the beginning of their confrontation).
Fuller also said investigators failed to obtain video from a bar and two restaurants that Smith had visited prior to the shooting, video that might have helped in gauging Smith’s temperament that night.
A pathologist’s report showed Smith was legally drunk after spending time at the city’s annual French Quarter Festival. He was driving with a group of friends traveling in several cars when his SUV appeared to lightly bump Hayes’ Hummer – a bump captured on surveillance videos. Smith then drove off, with Hayes in pursuit.
Hayes vehemently denied that he intentionally rammed Smith’s vehicle several blocks later. He told the jury that he was trying to dial 911 and didn’t realize how close they were as he tried to report a hit-and-run.
Hayes is a former semi-professional football player who said he’s an admirer of Smith. He said he didn’t realize the man he killed was Smith until hours after the shooting, while he was in police custody.