NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Former Saints running back Pierre Thomas was one of the key witnesses who testified Wednesday about what he saw the night his colleague and friend, Will Smith, was fatally shot after an argument on a Lower Garden District Street.
Thomas was with a group of people that included Smith and his wife on April 9. He said they had been to Sake Cafe and were headed to another place - with him in a separate car - when the fight began.
The prosecution asked how many people had guns that night, and Thomas answered just one - defendant Cardell Hayes. He was also asked what was more dangerous, having a gun or taking off your shirt - a reference to Smith's passenger, Richard Hernandez, who ultimately fled the scene after the shooting broke out.
"Guns. Taking your shirt off means you're just ready for a fistfight, not a gun fight," Thomas said.
Thomas was then asked if Smith presented a threat to Hayes when he was shot.
"No, not to my knowledge," Thomas answered.
Thomas testified that his focus had been on trying to quell the fight between Hernandez and Hayes' passenger, Kevin O'Neal, and that he was looking out for Smith's image that night.
"We as athletes have an image, a brand, that we have to protect," Thomas said.
Thomas ended his testimony by describing the shooting.
"The first shot drew my eye, he then turned, I could see [Hayes] with the gun in his left hand, and then five or six more shots," he said.
Next up was Stephen Cacioppo, who lives on Sophie Wright Place near the shooting scene. Cacioppo said he had fallen asleep on his couch while watching TV, but woke up when he heard yelling. He said it wasn't uncommon to hear fights because he lives near the Half Moon bar, but he got up because the arguing sounded "very intense." He said he looked out his window.
"There was two large guys with African shirts near a Hummer," Cacioppo testified. "The thinner guy was to the right and the bigger was in between. ...There was some arguing and I saw some hand checking, kind of an engagement, and then I saw a lady come in and get in between. ...It was simultaneous that a white guy with no shirt came into the scene. It was very sporadic and it looked like he was going to brawl. I thought the white guy was gonna get - was gonna get..."
As Cacioppo trailed off, the courtroom burst into laughter.
Cacioppo said he then saw a gun and called out to his wife, before seeing Hayes fire two shots. He said Hayes stepped forward and fired more shots into Smith's Mercedes.
On cross-examination, defense attorney John Fuller asked Cacioppo if he was drinking that night or if he wore glasses. Cacioppo said he had not been drinking, and that he wore 1.5-strength readers. When asked if he could tell who was threatening whom - Hayes or Smith - he said he could not. He said he was watching the argument for about 45 seconds.
Cacioppo: "I wasn't focused too much. I saw the other guy, and then people from the bar, I guess."
Fuller: "You did not see anyone take a swing at anybody at all?"
Cacioppo: "I did not see that."
Fuller: "As humans, we're not machines. Sometimes we see things, and sometimes we think we see something that we did not see?"
Fuller then asks about Pierre Thomas.
Cacioppo: "I didn't recognize [Thomas] that night, but I noticed a black guy who was very distraught."
Fuller: "Prior to the shooting you did not see Pierre Thomas?"
Cacioppo: "No I did not see anyone else."
Fuller then turned his focus to the subject of Hernandez, whom Cacioppo said was very erratic and aggressive. He would later tell police that Hernandez "looked ridiculous." He testified that Hernandez was charging O'Neal.
"Sort of like in school where there's a guy who wants to fight, but someone's holding him back," Cacioppo said.
Cacioppo admitted that he didn't know what was being said, and he didn't know if Hayes felt threatened. He did testify that at the beginning of the ordeal, Hayes was standing by his Hummer and people from the Mercedes - including a shirtless Hernandez - approached him.
Fuller: "You agree that when you started watching, Cardell was probably the calmest person out there, right?"
Fuller: "He was calm and at his car?"
Cacioppo: "He was arguing, as well."
Fuller: "He wasn't running around with his shirt off?"
On redirect, the prosecution also focused on Hernandez, asking about what Cacioppo had described as "hand checking." Cacioppo said he couldn't take his eyes off of Hernandez, whom he said was bouncing around, looking like he wanted to engage O'Neal and then backing off.
Prosecutor Laura Rodrigue: "You could no longer see Mrs. and Mr. Smith, right? (When the shooting happened).
Rodrigue: "You testified that the gun was pointing away from the Mercedes."
Cacioppo: "On an angle, the first two shots."
Cacioppo tells jurors that Hayes then moved forward.
"[He fired] into the open door of the Mercedes," Cacioppo said.
At that point, Judge Camille Buras asked the jurors if they needed a rest before the next witness, and they agreed to break.