Man Convicted of Manslaughter in Killing of Former New Orleans Saints Player Will Smith

Cardell Hayes faces up to 40 years in prison for the 2016 death of New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith following an altercation after a car crash

<p>AP Photo/Bill Kostroun</p> New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith

A man has been convicted in the shooting death of former NFL defensive end Will Smith following an altercation after a car crash in New Orleans in April 2016.

On Saturday, a jury found Cardell Hayes guilty of manslaughter on Saturday morning, according to multiple outlets. Hayes, who faces up to 40 years in prison, was acquitted on attempted manslaughter charges related to the shooting injuries of Smith's wife, Racquel Smith, per ABC News.

Hayes, 36, was previously convicted of the crime in December 2016, but his conviction was overturned when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed nonunanimous verdicts, according to the Associated Press. In the first trial, Hayes was also convicted of attempted manslaughter for the gunshot injuries sustained by Smith's wife. Hayes had served more than four years of a 25-year sentence when his first conviction was overturned and was released on bond.

As previously reported by PEOPLE, per a 2016 news release by the New Orleans Police Department, the altercation between Hayes and the New Orleans Saints player, 34, occurred after Smith rear-ended Hayes' car with his Hummer near the intersection of Sophie Wright Place and Felicity Street.

Cardell Hayes
Cardell Hayes

The two men reportedly "exchanged words" after the accident and Hayes, then 28, “produced a handgun and shot Smith multiple times." One of those shots hit Racquel in her right leg, police reported.

Hayes' defense said that Smith feared for his life and was acting in self-defense by shooting Smith. While there was evidence that Smith was intoxicated up to three times the legal limit at the time of the altercation, per the AP, there was no evidence that he wielded a weapon.

“One gun was fired by one man,” District Attorney Jason Williams said in his closing arguments, according to the outlet.

<p>AP Photo/Gerald Herbert</p> Cardell Hayes outside court in September 2023

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Cardell Hayes outside court in September 2023

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Following the retrial, Racquel and her family released a statement, as reported by ESPN.

"Each time we stepped into this courthouse, we were forced to relive the worst moments of our lives," it said. "As hard as it was to sit and listen to autopsy reports and untruths about the night Will was killed, and I was shot, we came each day brave and strong because we were fighting for Will. I can look my children in the eyes and tell them that I gave everything in pursuit of justice on behalf of Will."

Father of three Smith played for the Saints between 2004-2013 and helped his former team have a winning season in 2006, bringing joy to the city after it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He was also on the team in 2010 when the Saints won the Super Bowl.

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