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Will Smith's Killer Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison

Former Crescent City Kings player Cardell Hayes was convicted Thursday in the slaying of beloved Saints captain Will Smith. Hayes silently accepted the sentence of 25 years in prison on charges of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter in the incident that left Smith dead and Smith’s wife Racquel suffering from multiple gun shot wounds. The sentencing comes just days after the one year anniversary of Smith’s death. 


Hayes broke down in the courtroom during his testimony on the stand earlier Thursday afternoon, telling the court that he wished that he would have died that night instead of the former Saints player. “I should have just let him kill me,” Hayes said during his testimony, according to court transcripts. The defendant also apologized to Smith’s family, stating “I can say it a million times. I wish that night never happened.” Hayes expressed regret that he is the sole person responsible for taking Smith away from his family, but also tried to appeal to their similar situations as the verdict also robs his own son of a father. “Being away from my son[...] — what’s the difference from being dead?” 


Will Smith was shot and killed following a minor traffic accident in the Lower Garden District a little after 11PM on April 9th, 2016. The NOPD and EMTs reported arriving at the scene at 11:29PM to find Smith slumped out of his SUV into the street and bleeding out, suffering from eight gun shot wounds. The star defensive end was declared dead on the scene. Racquel Smith was taken to the hospital for two gun shot wounds to her leg. 


Criminal District Judge Camille Buras sentenced Hayes to 25 years for the manslaughter of Will Smith, and 15 years in the attempted manslaughter of Racquel Smith — to be served concurrently. 


During day two of testimony, Hayes reaffirmed his stance that the incident was one of self-defense. “I feared for my life,” he told the court, insisting that Smith had first shot a gun at him. “I didn’t just purposely do this.” 


29-year-old Cardell Hayes was a star football player at Warren Easton in his youth. In 2004, he was recruited by LSU and Florida. Hayes is listed on the roster of the Crescent City Kings (semi pro) in 2015. At the time of the killing, Hayes’s Facebook page stated that he enrolled at UNO in 2015 and contains multiple references to his love of pitbulls. 


Smith was drafted by the Saints in 2004 and played with them until tearing his ACL in 2013. He is revered by Saints fans for leading the team to glory and their only Super Bowl victory in the post-Katrina years. He died at 34 and left behind wife Racquel, and three children. 

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