Road-rage confrontation: Killer of ex-Saint faces sentencing

Road-rage confrontation: Killer of ex-Saint faces sentencing

NEW ORLEANS — It was a road-rage confrontation that cost former New Orleans Saints star Will Smith his life. Now, more than a year later, the man who pumped eight bullets into Smith is close to learning his punishment.

Cardell Hayes, 29, appeared to have caught something of a break at his December trial when a jury rejected the prosecution’s push for a second-degree murder verdict, which would have meant mandatory life in prison.

But New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said soon afterward that he believes Hayes deserves a 60-year sentence: the maximum 40 years for Smith’s death, to be followed by another 20 for attempted manslaughter in the wounding of Smith’s wife Racquel.

Hayes is scheduled for a sentencing hearing Wednesday in the courtroom of state District Judge Camille Buras. Buras also is expected to hear arguments on a motion, filed Tuesday, seeking a new trial based on unspecified “new evidence.” Details were not immediately available.

That might push a final decision on sentencing to later in the week even if Buras rejects the motion. A provision in the state criminal code says a sentence cannot be imposed until at least 24 hours after a new trial motion is overruled.

The sentencing hearing is likely to echo the drama of Hayes’s trial, including testimony from Racquel Smith about the effect the shooting had on her and her three children.

“You’ll see a Cliff’s Notes version of the trial,” predicts Donald “Chick” Foret, a criminal attorney and legal analyst.

And it will likely draw a crowd, including local sports figures. Saints stars past and present — including coach Sean Payton, quarterback Drew Brees and former running back Deuce McAllister — often dropped in to the trial to show support for Smith’s friends and family.

Smith was cast during the trial not only as a football hero — part of the Saints team that lifted the stricken city’s spirits after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the one that won a Super Bowl in 2010 — but also a beloved community leader who settled in New Orleans after retirement.

Expect the defence to again characterize Hayes, a former semi-pro football player and the owner of a tow truck business, as the affable, loving father to his 6-year-old son. The defence has noted the absence of any serious criminal record and has said Hayes feared for his life when he encountered a drunken, belligerent Smith following a traffic crash on the night of April 9, 2016.

Jurors heard at trial that Hayes’s Hummer had rear-ended Smith’s Mercedes SUV that night, shortly after the SUV appeared to have tapped the rear of Hayes’s car.

Although prosecutors said Hayes deliberately rammed Smith’s vehicle, Hayes insisted he was trying to get Smith’s license number when the second crash occurred. The jury appeared to believe Hayes on this point, finding him not guilty of aggravated criminal damage to property.

Hayes said he armed himself only after he and his own passenger were accosted by Smith and Richard Hernandez, a passenger in Smith’s Mercedes. He insisted he fired at Smith, hitting him once in the side and seven times in the back, only because he believed Smith had retrieved a gun from the SUV. He insisted on the stand that he heard a “pop” before he started shooting and that he did not shoot at Racquel Smith, who was hit in the legs.

A gun was found in Smith’s SUV — loaded but unfired. There was no other witness and no forensic evidence to back up Hayes’ claim that Smith was armed.

Prosecutors have acknowledged that the former Saint had a high blood-alcohol level after spending a day at the city’s annual French Quarter festival and the evening dining and drinking with friends. But they said he did nothing to provoke the shooting.

For all the expected emotion, legal experts say there is little chance Buras will be influenced by either side. She presided over the trial and is familiar with all the issues raised in pre-hearing motions and a pre-sentence report she ordered.

“She’s well aware of the facts of the case,” said attorney and Loyola University law professor Dane Ciolino. “There’s not going to be a whole lot that can be said.”

Ciolino said Buras likely will have a sentence in mind when she enters the courtroom.

Foret agrees. “Most judges have their minds made up when they take the bench the morning of sentencing,” he said. “I would be very surprised if either the state or the defence will present any information to Judge Buras that will significantly change the sentence that she is prepared to impose.”

Kevin McGill, The Associated Press

Just Posted

‘Listen to your gut’ urges injured skier

Mike Shaw was told he’d never walk again after an accident four years ago, but he defied the odds

Riverdale actor from the South Okanagan returns to his theatre roots

Cody Kearsley, Moose on Riverdale, on his latest theatre production

Okanagan Taste: Annual open houses start the holiday season

Allison Markin is a food and libations column focusing on the Okanagan

Interior Health expands meningococcal precautions in South Okanagan

Oliver, Osoyoos and Okanagan Falls included in the expanded precautionary immunization measure

City hopes to clear smoke with one last dispensary

Two of three have signed consent orders to convert to wellness centres, rather than dispensaries

What’s happening

Find out what’s happening in your community this weekend

‘I will now live in consistent fear’: Allan Schoenborn granted escorted leaves

The Merritt man was deemed not criminally responsible in the killing of his three children in 2008

Guns and drugs seized in Kamloops RCMP blitz

Kamloops Mounties and the gang unit seize drugs and make arrests in two-day blitz

Hammy the deer dodges conservation officers in Prince Rupert

The famous Prince Rupert hammock deer maintains his purple threads

‘No shirt, no service, no Canada’

Shirtless Tacoma man arrested after Canadian border officials say they found meth in rental vehicle

Missing woman smart, courageous, lovable

Mother says Caitlin Potts trying to overcome foster care experience

Federal funding to combat guns, gangs and opioid crisis

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said illicit drugs are often main cause of guns, gangs violence

Riverview youth mental health centre proceeds

Replacement for Maples Treatment Centre first announced in March

Dead boy’s father posts Facebook response after Appeal Court upholds conviction

David, Collet Stephan were found guilty in their son Ezekiel’s 2012 death from bacterial meningitis

Most Read