NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Racquel Smith, the widow of former Saints player Will Smith, took the stand Tuesday in the trial of Cardell Hayes, the man accused of shooting her and killing her husband on April 9 in the Lower Garden District.
Smith first testified about her background, saying she was born in Louisiana and graduated from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She said her husband was killed the day before her son's birthday, and described her role now as "his voice."
Smith said April 9 began with a trip to the French Quarter Festival, and Will had his gun with him. She said they both had conceal-carry permits, and Will was careful with his weapon, keeping it in the glove box when their children were around. However, she said when they got to the festival they saw a "no firearms" sign, and they returned to their Mercedes SUV, where Will put the gun in the driver's side door.
After the fest, Racquel said she and Will headed to Ruth's Chris steakhouse to eat, and then to Barcadia on Tchoupitoulas Street. She said they didn't want to stay long because they wanted to get back home to their three children.
Racquel said at some point, they got a text from former Saints player Pierre Thomas, who asked them to meet up with him and retired NOPD Capt. Billy Ceravolo at Sake Café on Magazine Street, and they did. She was then asked about what happened after they left Sake Café.
She said in their vehicle, Will was driving and she was seated behind him. In the passenger's seat was a friend, Richard Hernandez, and his wife, Rebecca Dooley, was seated behind him and next to Racquel. She said they were only driving for about a minute when an orange Hummer in front of them hit the brakes and she shouted out to Will. She said she didn't think they hit the Hummer, and neither did her husband, so they drove off. She said that's when she realized the Hummer was following them, and she was concerned.
She said suddenly Rebecca screamed that they were about to be hit, and she heard a loud crash and glass shattering.
"Will looked over at me and he was scared," Racquel said in court.
Racquel said Will and Richard got out of the car and she heard loud noises and men arguing. She said she then got out. She said Will and Cardell Hayes were arguing back and forth and cursing.
"I was crying, I was nervous, but my husband was my main focus," she said
Racquel said she saw Cardell's passenger exit the Hummer, and she noted his size.
"I was like, 'Sir, please, we're not like this.' I was saying, 'We have kids, we're not like this. This is Will Smith, we can take care of this,'" Racquel testified. "I looked at [Will] and said, 'Think about [the kids]. It's not worth it.' And he walked away with me."
Racquel said Richard Hernandez, was not presenting a deadly threat at the time, and no one in their vehicle made any physical contact with Cardell Hayes or his passenger.
"After I told him to think about the kids, I thought it was done, I thought it was over," she said.
She said as she and Will were walking back to their vehicle, she heard a series of pops and then felt a burning sensation throughout her body.
"I collapsed and played dead because I didn't know if he was gonna come back and shoot me," Raquel testified. "I heard more shots, pop, pop, pop. And then I heard a man say, 'You want to f---ing show off for a white boy!'"
Racquel said Cardell's voice sounded "loud, evil."
As she began to cry on the stand, she addressed Cardell Hayes directly.
"You didn't have to do that to me," she said. "You didn't have to shoot me. I just thank God I'm still with my babies"
Smith said she told detectives everything that she told the jury. She said after the shooting, she moved her children out of Louisiana.
"They miss their city, they miss their home, they miss their dad," she said. "...My son was like. 'Mommy where's daddy?' with tears in his eyes. 'Daddy is a Saint in heaven,'" she told him.
She said her son then said, "Mommy I'll protect you forever."
The judge called for a recess before cross-examination by defense attorney John Fuller, who began by expressing sympathy for Racquel. He then turned to the subject of Will Smith's legacy.
John Fuller: "Obviously you love your husband and want him to be remembered as a kind and giving person?"
Racquel Smith: "Yes."
John Fuller: "Is it safe to say you'd do almost anything to protect Will Smith's memory?"
Racquel Smith: "I love my husband."
John Fuller: "Would you exaggerate the events or leave out parts of what happened to preserve the memory of your husband?"
Racquel Smith: "No sir."
After restating the question, Fuller began asking about Will Smith's alcohol consumption that night.
Racquel recounted that Will had one daiquiri at the festival, wine at dinner, an unknown amount of drinks at Barcadia and an unknown amount of drinks at Sake Cafe. She said she couldn't remember specific numbers of drinks.
Fuller then turned to the initial incident where Cardell Hayes allegedly stopped his Hummer suddenly.
"I can't say [Hayes] slammed on the brakes, but it was a quick stop," Racquel said. "I didn't see any traffic in front of him."
John Fuller: "You wouldn't want your husband to endanger anyone else."
Racquel Smith: "Of course not."
John Fuller: "Your husband was clearly intoxicated, right?"
Racquel Smith: "You have to clarify what you mean by intoxicated."
Racquel then reiterated that no one in the Smiths' vehicle thought it hit the Hummer, so they drove off at a normal rate of speed. She said while she wasn't the first one to realize the Hummer had begun following them - that was Rebecca - she was fearful.
After they were struck by the Hummer, she said Will and Richard Hernandez got out of the Mercedes. She said she did not think Will had his license or insurance papers.
"It felt like an attack, that's what I remember," Racquel testified. "It felt like an attack."
She said as the argument between the men progressed, Richard took off his shirt.
"I see he and Hayes arguing back and forth," Racquel said. "They're talking, and I see Will talking [with his hands]. Cardell might have...I don't know."
John Fuller: "Was your husband aggressive?"
Racquel Smith: "You have to define aggressive."
Fuller asks the question again.
Racquel Smith: "My husband was upset."
Racquel said she would not use the word "aggressive" to describe her husband at the time, and she did not see him make any physical contact with Cardell Hayes.
"I did stand in between them, and Will always said, 'Racquel don't ever stand in between two men,'" she said.
Racquel Smith: "I tried to calm him down, he was calm, you know? We looked each other in the eyes and started walking away."
John Fuller: "What did you see in your husband's eyes that made you remind him of your kids?"
Racquel Smith: "Smith: It's not what I saw in [Will's] eyes, it's what I saw in Cardell Hayes' eyes. (After Fuller presses): "I saw it in everyone's eyes. It's not what I saw in [Will's] eyes."
Fuller then asked if she tried to restrain Will at any point, and she said that she grabbed his arm.
Racquel Smith: "[Will] didn't want to put me in a worse situation than it already was. ...I can't remember. He was like, 'Get back, stay back.'"
Fuller asked Racquel if her husband had fired a gun at any point that day, and she said no. He asked if she saw the gun or the person that shot her, and she replied that she did not because her back was turned.
Fuller asked if there was anything she was leaving out, or if she ever told Will, "Don't do it." She answered: "Don't do what?"
John Fuller: "When you're standing in between Cardell and Will, is your attention on Will or Cardell?
Racquel Smith: "Will, because he's my husband."
Fuller: "You never see Cardell push Will?"
Smith: "No sir."
Fuller then circled back to where Will put his gun while they were at the French Quarter Festival. She replied that she saw him open the driver's side door, so it was somewhere near there.
Fuller asked if she spoke to doctors at the hospital about what happened. She answered that she had been given morphine, and she recalled giving them basic information.
Fuller then turns to the subject of Will Smith's temper.
John Fuller: "Did [Will] have what you consider a temper?"
Racquel Smith: "Do you have a temper?"
John Fuller: "Let me tell you how this works: I ask the questions."
Fuller asks if Will was calm before the shooting.
"No, no one was," she said.
Fuller then asks about Hernandez - did she see him approach Cardell Hayes? Racquel said she saw him doing something with his shirt, but that was all she recalled.
Finally, he asked about the whereabouts of Richard's wife, Rebecca.
"Rebecca was to the left of me when I was shot, yes, she was definitely there," Racquel answered.
Fuller ended his questioning there.
On redirect, the prosecution asked Racquel if her husband got out of the car with a gun, to which she answered no. When she was told by Will to step aside, was it because of an imminent gun battle? Again, she replied no, saying that's something that Will said to her to keep her from getting hurt because the men he was facing were large.
Finally, the prosecutor asks if anyone has ever apologized for shooting her or expressed sympathy.
"No. Never," she said.
The trial resumes Wednesday at 9 a.m.