NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A business owner and semiprofessional football player was indicted Thursday on a second-degree murder charge in the shooting death of retired New Orleans Saints’ defensive end Will Smith.
Cardell Hayes was also indicted on a charge of attempted second-degree murder because police say he wounded Smith’s wife in the shooting. Hayes and Smith got into an argument after Hayes’s Hummer hit Smith’s Mercedes SUV from behind on April 9, police said. Smith’s wife was in the passenger seat at the time.
Hayes’ defense lawyer John Fuller has said Hayes was not the aggressor and that a witness saw a gun in Smith’s possession. Police say a loaded gun was found in Smith’s vehicle.
A lawyer for Smith’s family, Peter Thomson, insists Smith never brandished or carried a gun. Thomson has described Hayes as “enraged” during the altercation and portrayed his clients as the victims.
Smith was shot seven times in the back and once along his side, the coroner said. His wife, Racquel, was shot twice in the legs but survived.
The Smith family says they’re pleased, though not surprised, that a grand jury has indicted Hayes in Smith’s death and attempted murder of Smith’s wife, Racquel, Thomson said in a statement Thursday evening. “The Smith family remains confident that once a jury hears all the evidence, the killer will be convicted and justice will be served,” the statement said. “Although nothing can ease the pain this family is feeling, today was a step toward ensuring this cold-blooded murderer is held responsible for the actions that took the life of their husband, father and friend.”
Hayes was also indicted on charges of aggravated assault and aggravated damage to property. He pleaded not guilty to all charges. His bond was set at $1.75 million.
Smith was heralded as a leader on the Saints team that rebounded with the hurricane-stricken city and won the Super Bowl after the 2009 season. He stayed in the area after his 2012 retirement and was active with various charities in his adopted city.
The indictment was handed down during a preliminary hearing on whether police had enough evidence to keep Hayes in jail, where he has been since the shooting. With the indictment, prosecutors will likely be able to keep some evidence closer to the vest rather than presenting it during a preliminary hearing.
During that hearing, Fuller accused prosecutors of trying to “jam an indictment down our throats” by trying to take Hayes to a grand jury proceeding when they knew that Fuller and his co-counsel would be in court on other matters.
Assistant district attorneys hustled the indictment into a magistrate’s courtroom just after a private investigator testified that a witness told him she saw retired police officer William Ceravolo take a gun from the front seat of Smith’s car before investigators arrived — something that might bolster self-defense claims. Ceravolo directed a reporter’s questions to the police department.
Fuller said after the hearing that the woman wasn’t subpoenaed because she’s afraid.
“I’ve talked to the woman myself. She had no reason to lie. She came forward,” he said.
Fuller also said he had represented thousands of people and participated in hundreds of preliminary hearings and “this is the only one where someone was indicted in the middle of a preliminary hearing.”
Dane Ciolino, a criminal law professor at Loyola University-New Orleans, said in an email that it was “most unusual” for an indictment to be handed down during a preliminary hearing, but not unprecedented.
Fuller said he asked prosecutors last week to let Hayes speak to a grand jury and got a hand-delivered response two days ago setting his appearance at 9 a.m. Thursday — a time that he said prosecutors knew he couldn’t be with Hayes. He said Hayes did not appear before the grand jury.
Hayes owns a tow-truck company and last year played in a semiprofessional league. His attorney has repeatedly pointed out that Hayes stayed at the scene of the shooting until police arrived.
This story has corrected the day of the hearing to Thursday, not Wednesday.