Cardell Hayes found guilty of killing former Saints player Will Smith

Mike McKenzie reacts to ruling following Will Smith murder trial

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After over five hours of deliberation, a 12 person jury finds Cardell Hayes guilty of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter in the shooting of former Saints Pro-Bowler Will Smith and his wife Racquel.

Jurors found Hayes not guilty on a third charge of aggravated criminal damage to property.

Hayes faces up to 40 years in prison.

Sunday's verdict comes after a week-long trial which saw Hayes take the stand on Saturday in an attempt to tell his side of the story and defend himself. During testimony Hayes told jurors he feared for his life and thought Will Smith had a gun in his hand when he opened fire.

The  District Attorney's Office said it is gratified by the verdict.  A statement from the DA's office said it was "a victory for the Smith family as well as the citizens of New Orleans."

Smith's wife was emotional following the decision. Teammates and coach Sean Payton were also there for the verdict.

"You've got a lot of pent-up emotion, frustration. To hear guilty in some sense give you some relief. That's not a win," former Saints running back Deuce McAllister said about Racquel Smith's reaction.

"We are going to regroup tomorrow and see what the next approach is," defense attorney John Fuller said. "Continue to pray for all families and continue to pray, not just for not just for them going forward but pray for healing."

Hayes testified, "I'm about to get shot, are you kidding. They're actually at  the door of the truck, tussling for the gun. He spins her off of him and as he comes up, I see a gun in his hand. I saw him spin out and then I heard pop. I was trying to stop my gun from actually shooting. I didn't expect it to actually go off that many times. My weapon falls and when I looked at Smith I said man breathe, breathe. Somebody call an ambulance."

Smith's wife Racquel gave emotional testimony on day two. She testified while Smith and Hayes argued she thought it was done. Racquel said as she and Will were walking back to their vehicle, she heard a series of pops and then felt a burning sensation throughout her body.

"I collapsed and played dead because I didn't know if he was gonna come back and shoot me," Raquel testified. "I heard more shots, pop, pop, pop. And then I heard a man say, 'You want to f---ing show off for a white boy!'"

"You didn't have to do that to me," she said. "You didn't have to shoot me. I just thank God I'm still with my babies."

A couple of Smith's former Saint teammates, Deuce McAllister and Pierre Thomas, also took the stand. Thomas was with Smith the night of the shooting. Other former teammates who showed up in court were quarterback Drew Brees and safety Steve Gleason. Saints coach Sean Payton escorted Racquel into court Saturday.

A spokesperson for Racquel Smith released this statement:

"Racquel's heart is full of gratitude for the entire staff of the New Orleans District's Attorney's Office and the members of the Police Department who worked tirelessly on this case. She is particularly grateful to District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and his Assistant District Attorney's Jason Napoli and Laura Rodrigue for their hard work in presenting this case with such precision, professionalism and passion.

"Because of the upcoming sentencing hearing, in which Racquel will provide a victim impact statement, she does not feel it is appropriate to comment on the facts of the case at this time. The main focus of Will Smith's family is to see Mr. Hayes justly sentenced for the murder he so callously committed. Will's dedication to his family, his love for his community and his desire to live life to the fullest will continue to inspire Racquel, Will, Jr., Lisa, Wynter and everyone else who loved him."

The 12-person jury spent six days listening to testimony and arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys including a four-hour closing statement from defense attorney John Fuller.

Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 17.

Hayes shot and killed Will Smith on April 9th after a road rage incident in the Lower Garden District.

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