Retrial date set in 2016 killing of former Saints star Will Smith

Rather than take a plea deal for a manslaughter charge, Hayes is set for a new trial to begin on Feb. 5.
Published: Sep. 20, 2023 at 10:34 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 20, 2023 at 5:24 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A pretrial hearing was held Wednesday (Sept. 20) for Cardell Hayes, the man accused of killing Saints star Will Smith and injuring his wife in a road rage incident back in 2016.

Rather than take a rumored plea deal on a manslaughter charge, Hayes is set for a new trial to begin on Feb. 5, 2024.

“They didn’t come to a meeting of the minds and that’s why we have trials. That’s where we’re going,” said Fox 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti.

District Attorney Jason Williams says the family and friends of Smith are past the point of frustration, knowing they will have to go through another trial for the man previously convicted of killing their loved one.

The U.S. Supreme Court vacated Hayes’s 2016 conviction because the 10-2 verdict was not unanimous. Hayes was sentenced to 25 years in prison and served less than five before being freed on bond in March 2021.

Hayes’ attorney says his client is looking forward to the chance to clear his name.

Hayes claimed he acted in self-defense when he shot former Smith seven times in the back and once in the side during a road rage incident in the Lower Garden District in April 2016. Smith’s wife was also wounded.

“That’s not okay. That’s not okay. That’s not legal and that’s not justifiable,” said Williams.

Smith’s widow and children were surrounded by their support system at New Orleans Criminal District Court at Wednesday’s hearing.

“This whole city celebrated Will Smith. They loved him whether they met him or not. He was this city’s champion,” said Williams.

Hayes, now 36, was also joined by a crowd of people as he entered the courthouse.

“Cardell has been depressed since this incident happened. He was depressed in prison. He’s depressed now. He constantly mourns the loss of Mr. Smith who Cardell actually looked up to as a football player,” said Fuller. “Mr. Hayes has faith first of all in his God. Second of all, in himself, his family, and his lawyers.”

The victim’s wife, Racquel Smith, was visibly upset and had to be consoled by friends and family.

“She lost her husband, and her children lost their father. They didn’t want this. They didn’t want to come back and forth to Tulane and Broad,” Williams said.

There was quite a bit of confusion inside Judge Camille Buras’ courtroom Wednesday.

“It’s deeply frustrating that we had a date locked in, and they said that they wanted to plead guilty as charged, no reduction of the charge,” Williams said.

“There was never, never a plea in place and Cardell was never going to come in this morning and plead guilty,” Fuller said. “I attribute that rumor to some ill-meaning sources.”

Williams said there are no true winners in court -- everyone loses.

“You see on social media and other places people talking about being on team Cardell or team Will,” Williams said. “It’s not a game.”

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