NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Judge Camille Buras on Thursday sentenced Cardell Hayes to 25 years in prison for the death of Will Smith and 15 years for the attempted manslaughter of Smith's wife, Raquel. The sentences will run concurrently with credit for time served. There will be no probation, parole or suspension of sentence.
Raquel Smith released a statement following the sentencing stating that she was disappointed in the leniency that was shown to Hayes by the judge. The statement read in part:
Earlier Thursday, the court finally heard from Hayes. In 11 minutes on the witness stand, often choking back tears, Hayes made his first public statements since the night he shot and killed Smith.
Hayes, who took the stand in shackles and an orange prison jump suit, spoke to Smith's children saying he knows what they're going through.
"To not have a father around, I know what you're going through. I wish that night had never happened," Hayes said.
Hayes wept when he said he is no longer able to be there for his son.
"I'm used to bringing him to school, but I'm locked up," he said.
Hayes addressed Racquel Smith, telling her he never knew she was injured.
"I never knew you were shot. I never said negative things about your family," Hayes said.
Hayes testified that he looked up to Will Smith on the football field.
"I would never purposely take his life," Hayes said.
Hayes said he does not blame Smith's family and friends for their anger and said he wishes he could take it back.
"Getting convicted of this, being portrayed like the media portrays me, I should have let him kill me. I'm dead anyway," he said.
Hayes denied standing over Will Smith and screaming at him. He said he was asking him to breathe.
On cross-examination by Orleans Parish Assistant District Attorney Jason Napoli, Hayes said he does not know how Racquel Smith was shot.
"You still maintain that Will Smith got a gun and that's how Raquel" was shot, Napoli asked.
Hayes denied saying Smith deserved to be shot. Napoli then asked who put seven bullets in Will Smith's back.
"It's obvious I did," Hayes responded.
But Hayes maintained he attempted to de-escalate the situation and that he did not say the confrontation was Will Smith's fault.
"I didn't say it was all Will's fault. It was Will and his friend. I tried to de-escalate the situation," Hayes said.
Henry Jolly, a friend of Cardell Hayes was next to testify.
Jolly said Hayes has been a good friend for the past six or seven years. He said Hayes bought a dog for him.
"He wanted to buy a dog. He was excited to meet me. In dog breeding world I'm the man, like the dogfather," Jolly said
Jolly he could not believe he was seeing Hayes in handcuffs after the crime.
"Cardell's not that type of person," Jolly said. "This is my first time seeing Cardell since he was locked up. This is difficult."
Jolly said he wouldn't wish the situation on his worst enemy.
At one point, Judge Buras and courtroom deputies admonished a man in audience for raising a fist to Hayes as he left stand.
Wednesday's testimony veered into the bizarre as the defense called a man who claimed to hear the sounds of two different guns, the night Smith was shot in the Lower Garden District.
Michael Burnside testified he heard "baps" and "booms" in describing what he thought was two different weapons being fired.
Prosecutors sought to discredit Burnside, drawing out testimony in which Burnside admitted that "in my world, I don't recognize April 9. I don't have a television, cell phone."
Fox 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti criticized defense attorney John Fuller for calling Burnside to the stand.
"You don't put an obviously disturbed man on the stand. You make the court listen to rants and raves," Raspanti said. "That's not what this building and criminal justice are all about."