NEW ORLEANS — The man who fatally shot retired New Orleans Saints defensive leader Will Smith faces a sentence of up to 40 years in prison after being convicted of manslaughter during a trial that made spectators of some of the city’s sports heroes.
Cardell Hayes (pictured left) was convicted of manslaughter Sunday night, ending a week-long trial in which the defendant insisted he only fired because the popular football star was drunk, violent and had grabbed a gun following a traffic crash on the night of April 9.
Smith was part of the Saints team that lifted the stricken city’s spirits in the years after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, helping carry the team to a winning season in 2006 and a Super Bowl win four years later.
His death at the hands of Hayes, 29, was stunning, even for a city where residents are accustomed to regular reports of gunfire deaths.
Hayes will be sentenced on Feb. 17. As bad as the conviction was for him, it could have been worse. He was tried on a second-degree murder charge that carried a mandatory life sentence.
Hayes also was convicted of attempted manslaughter for wounding Smith’s wife, Racquel Smith.
“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,” her lawyer said in an emailed news release. “The main focus of Will Smith’s family is to see Mr. Hayes justly sentenced for the murder he so callously committed.”