NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The Orleans District Attorney's office leaned on the New Orleans Saints for testimony and support during the trial against Will Smith's killer Cardelle Hayes.
"I think the support that they afforded us helped us, kept that adrenaline going and kept us moving forward," DA Leon Cannizzaro said.
During a news conference Monday, Cannizzaro called Smith a "hero" for staying in New Orleans after retiring as a Super Bowl-winning Saint's player.
"This was a murder of a hero," Cannizzaro said. "Even Steve Gleason came in there on several occasions in the wheelchair with his wife and the attendant because he felt that this had affected our community and our city more than anything else, and they wanted to demonstrate a support and let the jury know that. Let the jury know you're deciding the case here of someone who was a hero."
"Me, myself and a lot of my teammates were there for [Raquel Smith] to show her support. Let's give her the due respect she deserves and don't try to make it anything else," Saints safety Roman Harper said.
Even head coach Sean Payton sat in on Saturday's testimony and rushed back after the team's game in Tampa Bay on Sunday as the verdict was announced late that night.
"It was tragic, obviously, and senseless," Payton said. "There's no specific time of grieving and yet I thought [Raquel] showed amazing strength throughout it all."
"Why wouldn't they use that resource that was there in the courtroom?" Fox 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti said. "It does have certain impact because we wanted to know what kind of a man Will Smith was because that went towards some of the issues in the case."
Raspanti believes having Saints players and coaches inside the courtroom was an asset for the prosecution.
"Maybe it did help the prosecution some, but I think at the end of the day, the facts and the evidence carried this case," Raspanti said.
Even though Assistant District Attorney Jason Napoli told jurors, "Will Smith played defense and it's your turn to play defense for him" during his closing arguments, Cannizzaro argues Smith's notoriety played no part in how the case was handled.
"I refer you to Darren Sharper. Is that the one?," Cannizzaro said. "I can simply say if you violate the law, I don't care who you are, we are going to pursue you and we are going to look at the case. If you are a victim and we have a case, we are going to pursue that case."
Cannizzaro said several Saints players would come to the DA's office after court proceedings and encourage prosecutors.