NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A business owner and semiprofessional football player was indicted Thursday on a second-degree murder charge in the shooting death of retired New Orleans Saints’ defensive end Will Smith.
Cardell Hayes was also indicted on a charge of attempted second-degree murder because police say he wounded Smith’s wife in the shooting. Hayes and Smith got into an argument after Hayes’s Hummer hit Smith’s Mercedes SUV from behind on April 9, police said. Smith’s wife was in the passenger seat at the time.
Hayes’ defense lawyer John Fuller has said Hayes was not the aggressor and that a witness saw a gun in Smith’s possession. Police say a loaded gun was found in Smith’s vehicle.
A lawyer for Smith’s family, Peter Thomson, insists Smith never brandished or carried it. Thomson has described Hayes as “enraged” during the altercation and portrayed his clients as the victims.
Smith was shot seven times in the back and once along his side, the coroner said. His wife, Racquel, was shot twice in the legs but survived.
Hayes was also indicted on charges of aggravated assault and aggravated damage to property. He has pleaded not guilty and his bond has been set at $1.75 million.
Smith was heralded as a leader on the Saints team that rebounded with the hurricane-stricken city and won the Super Bowl after the 2009 season. He stayed in the area after his 2012 retirement and was active with various charities in his adopted city.
The indictment was handed down during a preliminary hearing on whether police had enough evidence to keep Hayes in jail, where he has been since the shooting. With the indictment, prosecutors will likely be able to keep some evidence closer to the vest rather than presenting it during a preliminary hearing.
During the preliminary hearing, Fuller accused prosecutors of trying to “jam an indictment down our throats” by trying to take Hayes to a grand jury proceeding when they knew that Fuller and his co-counsel would be in court on other matters.
After the hearing, Fuller said he had represented thousands of people and participated in hundreds of preliminary hearings.
“This is the only one where someone was indicted in the middle of a preliminary hearing,” he said.
Dane Ciolino, a criminal law professor at Loyola University-New Orleans, said in an email: “It is most unusual but not unprecedented.”
Fuller said he asked prosecutors last week to let Hayes speak to a grand jury and got a hand-delivered response two days ago setting his appearance at 9 a.m. Thursday — a time that he said prosecutors knew he couldn’t be with Hayes.
Hayes owns a tow truck company and last year played in a semiprofessional league. His attorney has repeatedly pointed out that Hayes stayed at the scene of the shooting until police arrived.
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