Lawyer: Smith held no gun as he was shot in the back


NEW ORLEANS (AP) — An enraged Hummer driver chased down former Saints defensive end Will Smith’s Mercedes, deliberately rammed the SUV from behind, angrily confronted him in the street and then shot him eight times, yelling over his dying body as his wounded wife tried to crawl away, the Smith family’s lawyer said Wednesday.

Racquel Smith wanted everyone to know that her husband was “her Superman” and that he died trying to protect her, attorney Peter Thomson said. But Smith never pulled out his own handgun, which remained loaded but unused in a compartment inside his Mercedes, he said.

Four days after the fatal shooting, Thomson laid out a version of what happened that he said was based on the recollections of Racquel Smith and other witnesses, seeking to dispel what he called “lies and factual distortion” spread by the man police identified as Smith’s killer.

In the tumultuous aftermath of Smith’s death, competing narratives have emerged about the minutes leading up to the shooting. Police are still sorting through facts, witness statements and videos as the grieving city copes with the loss of one of its sports heroes.

A lawyer for Hummer driver Cardell Hayes, who is jailed on $1 million bond after being arrested by police on a murder charge, said his client felt threatened and was not the aggressor.

But Thomson said the real victims were the Smiths, who were enjoying a “regular night” with some friends before they encountered Hayes.

“Suddenly this Hummer drove up at great speed behind them and rammed into them violently, causing their back windshield to shatter, their heads to whip back, and their car to hit the Chevy Impala in front of them,” said Thomson, who described the ramming of the car as aggravated battery.

Hayes and his passenger then got out and angrily approached the Mercedes. Smith got out, too, and asked why they were attacking him. “The driver, who I understand is the killer in this case, is enraged,” Thomson said.

He said Smith’s wife and their female passenger got out to defuse the situation, walking Smith back to his car, “but the killer follows.”

“Suddenly, two shots are fired. She is shot immediately in both legs and she collapses. Either immediately or moments thereafter, the killer unloads six to eight shots into Will’s back,” Thomson said.

“I can tell you the killer showed no remorse whatsoever, and actually stood over Will Smith’s dead body as his wife crawled away,” he added.

The coroner’s report, released Wednesday, said seven of the bullets hit his back and one in the left side of his chest.

Throughout the confrontation, Smith’s licensed handgun remained in a compartment inside his car, Thomson said. Smith had a permit to carry the concealed weapon in Louisiana — to protect himself and his family — but he said Smith never took the weapon out of its compartment.

Police confirmed that a 9 mm handgun, loaded but unfired, was found inside Smith’s SUV. Police also said Hayes, 28, acknowledged at the scene that he fired his .45-caliber handgun at Smith and his wife. Another gun, also loaded but unfired, was found inside Hayes’ Hummer. An additional charge for Racquel Smith’s injury is pending, police said.

Racquel Smith was hit twice, Thomson said — one bullet fractured her right femur near the knee; another passed through her left thigh into her left knee.

“This has been very traumatic for her, devastating for her and her children,” her lawyer said. “We believe she will recover physically. The emotional scars, however, she may never recover from. These will last forever for both her and her children.”

There’s no dispute at this point that the shooting was precipitated by an earlier encounter. Hayes’ lawyer, John Fuller, described it as a hit-and-run, and insisted that his client will be vindicated once the full story emerges. He said Hayes had responsibly called 911 and was following the vehicle that hit him to read the license plate number just before the fatal confrontation.

Thomson rebutted that, saying the Hummer had stopped suddenly, causing Smith to brake quickly, and that if any contact happened between them, it was so slight that the two couples thought the cars might not have touched at all.

“The consensus in the car was, ‘we didn’t hit this vehicle, there’s no damage, it’s late at night,’ so out of concern for their safety and because they don’t know why this Hummer had stopped so suddenly, and seeing no damage whatsoever, they continued,” Thomson said.

“There is nothing, nothing, Will Smith could have ever said” to justify the shooting, Thomson concluded.

The case has riveted a city where Smith, 34, was a fan favorite. Born in New York, Smith came to New Orleans from Ohio State and quickly became a team leader. After retirement, he chose to stay, showing commitment to the city as it recovered from Hurricane Katrina, and supporting a foundation that helped women and children.

Will Smith Sr., speaking from Durham, North Carolina, said he forgives the man accused of fatally shooting his son. He told WTVD that he isn’t interested in a trial, that the Lord will do to Hayes what he’s going to do, and nothing that happens in the court system will bring back his son.

A public visitation will be held Friday to honor Smith and a private funeral and burial will be held Saturday.

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