NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Jurors in the Will Smith murder trial never believed Cardell Hayes was guilty of second-degree murder, according to one juror who helped decide Hayes' fate Sunday evening.
The juror, who spoke with FOX 8 on the condition of anonymity, said Hayes' testimony played a critical role in his defense.
"Overall I found him truthful, yes I did. I feel like in the same way that Racquel, her memory was colored in a way, rosy-colored, I think similarly there were parts of his testimony that were the same. I found him generally truthful, I found him generally genuine and sincere," the juror said.
The juror said while she felt extreme sympathy for Racquel Smith, who was also shot by Hayes, she said she felt Smith left out things during her testimony.
While the state sought a guilty verdict for murder, though, the juror said that was never a realistic option in deliberations.
"Unanimously we felt that we should be looking at manslaughter by definition because some of the key factors in manslaughter were: lack of intent, there was no intent; it was the heat of passion in the moment; it was provoked; and there was not a cooling off period," the juror said.
The 10-2 vote to convict Hayes of manslaughter wasn't reached easily, though, as some jurors were unyielding in their opinion of the case.
"There were people who were dead set on acquittal and we understood the reasons. There were people who were on the fence, I was early on, on the fence myself. And there were some people, who in their minds were clear that he had some responsibility in what happened," the juror said.
However, she said the jurors never felt rushed to come to conclude the trial because of sequestration.
"We've already put all of that time into it, we were in for the long-haul and they let us know that if it went too late, that they would take us back and we could sleep on it and we could pick up the next day," she said.
She said it was the ballistics evidence presented by prosecutors that helped the jury reach a decision, paired with Hayes' own testimony that he saw a gun in Smith's hand.
"The part that did not fit was the seeing a gun. I can understand him thinking he might have seen a gun but even at that point he had already shot him and that's what became problematic," the juror said. "Based on the angle, it looks like she would've been the first one shot and then at this point you have no provocation. So, you know the gun came out somehow, she's the first one shot, I have no belief, whatsoever, that he would've done that intentionally. There is no indication that he would. I suspect that it was an accident and then from that everything rolled forward from there."
However, she said it was clear, the crash on Sophie Wright was an accident and Hayes never meant to ram Smith's SUV, adding the crash report showed Smith and his passengers weren't wearing seat belts and the crash happened at 15 mph.
"To make that connection, he would have had to intentionally ram their car and the evidence just wasn't there to support that at all and I can tell you it did not take us long to dispense with that," she said.
In fact, she said it was clear that once that charge was off the table, the only aggressors were Will Smith and the people he was with that evening, especially Richard Hernandez.
"I know that the prosecution is using the term that he was ridiculous and he was, but it was more than that. He inflamed the situation. I am appalled that there is not, that he is not somehow culpable and somehow held responsible for part of this disaster," she said.
Now Hayes faces up to sixty years in prison, something she thinks would be a virtual life sentence and after a week intimately involved in the trial, it's not what she'd like to see happen to Cardell Hayes.
"I would seek leniency, I know what I saw and what my intentions were," the juror said.
The juror said at no time did the jury feel swayed by the celebrity appearance of Saints stars in the crowd.