NFL Player’s Killer Cardell Hayes Re-Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison

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In a recent development in New Orleans, Cardell Hayes, the man responsible for the fatal shooting of retired NFL player, Will Smith, back in 2016, was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Thursday. This notable verdict marks Hayes’ second time standing in the defendant’s dock answering for Smith’s death.

Originally convicted of manslaughter in December of 2016, Hayes, now 36, was on the receiving end of a 25-year sentence at that time. However, the court’s opinion was divided, with the jury vote falling 10-2. This non-unanimous outcome was ultimately overruled when the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited such split decisions.

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Fast forward to January 2024, when a unanimous jury once again found Hayes guilty, summarily dismissing the defense’s assertion that Hayes had shot in self-defense under the belief that a drunken and aggressive Smith had retrieved a weapon from his vehicle.

The presiding judge over both trials, state District Judge Camille Buras, expressed the complications surrounding this case. During her pre-sentencing address, she acknowledged the substantial support Hayes had from his circle of friends and family, mentioning his model behavior within the confines of his cell. However, she contended that both Hayes and an associate were armed when they emerged from Hayes’ vehicle following the collision. She also noted that Smith was unarmed when Hayes confronted him.

Smith’s body told a horrifying tale, with scars from eight bullet wounds — seven of which marred his back. In addition, Hayes’ Hummer was alleged to have made a significant impact when colliding with Smith’s SUV on the ill-fated night. Video footage from that night suggested Smith’s Mercedes SUV may have slightly contacted Hayes’ Hummer before speeding off — a chase Hayes pursued.

Despite these allegations, Hayes insisted he had no intentions to ram Smith’s vehicle, leading the jury to acquit him of related charges in the initial trial. The prosecution was steadfast in their 25-year sentence request, stating that even though Hayes expressed regret, he never admitted any wrongful action.

Defense lawyer Sarah Chervinsky refrained from setting forth a specific sentence for her client. However, she emphasized Hayes’ strong backing from the community and family, even suggesting at one point that “five years is enough.”

An emotionally charged courtroom was left hushed as Smith’s now teenaged daughter, Lisa, addressed the court before sentencing. She recounted the pain of her mother re-learning to walk post-shooting, and the void left by her father’s absence in her life.

Meanwhile, Hayes, consistent with his stand since the commencement of his trials, maintained he fired in self-defense. Claims that he heard a mysterious “pop” sound before opening fire were left unsubstantiated, as was his statement of not targeting Smith’s wife, Racquel.

The evidence brought to trial confirmed Smith’s intoxication at the time of the altercation, but there was no third-party witness or scientific evidence to substantiate Hayes’ claims of Smith brandishing or discharging a weapon. At this year’s retrial in January, the defense once again underscored the prosecution’s failure to disprove Hayes’ claim of self-defense.

Following a unanimous guilty verdict involving Hayes on January 27, he was taken back into custody after being released on bail in 2021. He had enjoyed some time out of prison due to retrial delays, including those imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, he awaits his transfer to prison to serve out the remainder of his sentence.

This conclusion also brought an end to an attempted manslaughter conviction from the 2016 trial tied to the wounding of Racquel Smith. Hayes dodged the conviction this time around in January’s retrial. Having already served more than four years of his predicted sentence, it was unclear if Hayes’ time under close supervision and home confinement would be deducted from his 25-year sentence when he returns to prison. Before his sentencing, about two dozen friends and family members gathered to say prayers in the expansive courthouse hallway.

Smith, a revered figure in New Orleans, had played a vital role in strengthening the city’s spirits post-Hurricane Katrina with the Saints team in 2005. His contribution led to a Super Bowl victory in 2010. Hayes, a father of two and once a semi-pro football player, ran a towing business when he wasn’t on the field.