A New Orleans jury convicted Cardell Hayes of manslaughter in the shooting death of NFL star Will Smith, and attempted manslaughter of Smith’s wife, Raquel Smith.
Smith, 34, was shot to death during a road rage incident on April 9. Smith’s wife was also shot but she survived her injury.
According to local ABC affiliate WGNO, the tragic incident occurred at a red light when Hayes’ car tapped the rear bumper of Smith’s Mercedes SUV just as the light turned green.
Kevin O’Neal, a passenger in Hayes’ Hummer said Smith slammed the brakes, causing Hayes to hit him from behind. The impact shattered the rear window of Smith’s truck.
Neal claims Smith said, “I have a gun” and Cardell Hayes said, “I’ve got one too,” before he shot the New Orleans Saints defensive player.
A loaded weapon was found in Smith’s SUV. But tests showed the gun had not been fired.
Hayes testified that Smith punched him multiple times. But Neal contradicted Hayes’ testimony, saying there was no physical contact between the two men.
Neal’s testimony drew gasps in the courtroom when he said the football player “caused his own demise”.
Hayes’ attorney, John Fuller, said his client acted in self defense after a hit-and-run.
“My client was not the aggressor,” Fuller said in April, according to The Times-Picayune.
“This boy acted in self-defense,” he said, touching Hayes’ shoulder.
In his closing arguments on Sunday, Orleans Parish Assistant District Attorney Jason Napoli told the jury: “Will Smith played defense for the Saints but he was defenseless that night. Now it’s your turn to play defense for him”.
“Racquel Smith had to watch as the love of her life was murdered,” Napoli said.
After the jury returned its guilty verdict, Racquel Smith thanked the New Orleans Police Department and district attorney’s office who “worked tirelessly,” on the case. She said her “heart is full of gratitude,” in a statement released on Sunday.
Hayes faces up to 40 years in prison when he is sentenced on Feb. 17.