New Orleans Resident Convicted of 2016 Manslaughter of Ex-NFL Player

Tragic Encounter Turns Deadly in New Orleans Incident.

by Nouman Rasool
New Orleans Resident Convicted of 2016 Manslaughter of Ex-NFL Player
© Davis Turner/Getty Images

In a highly-publicized trial that captured the attention of New Orleans and the sports world, Cardell Hayes, 36, was convicted of manslaughter in the 2016 shooting death of former NFL player Will Smith. This verdict, which could lead to Hayes facing up to 40 years behind bars, marks a pivotal moment in a case that has been fraught with controversy and legal complexities.

Fatal Road Rage

The incident, which occurred in April 2016, escalated from a traffic accident to a fatal confrontation. Hayes, driving a Hummer, was accused of deliberately rear-ending Smith's Mercedes in New Orleans, a claim his defense team argued was accidental.

The altercation that followed resulted in Hayes shooting Smith eight times, leading to his death, and injuring Smith’s wife, Raquel, who was shot in the legs. Prosecutors from the Orleans Parish district attorney’s office argued that Hayes’ actions were not in self-defense, as claimed, but rather an unnecessary and deadly escalation of the situation.

"One gun was fired by one man," prosecutor Jason Williams emphasized during the closing arguments of the week-long trial, which concluded after four hours of jury deliberation. This trial wasn't Hayes' first encounter with the justice system over this incident.

In December 2016, he was initially convicted of manslaughter in a 10-2 jury decision and sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2017. However, following a 2020 Supreme Court ruling deeming Louisiana’s “split-decision convictions” unconstitutional, Hayes, along with over a thousand others, saw their convictions affected.

Released from prison and granted a new trial, Hayes faced the courts again, only to be convicted once more of manslaughter, though acquitted of the attempted manslaughter charge for shooting Raquel Smith. The case's resolution has stirred mixed reactions.

Outside the courthouse, Hayes' family expressed their grief, suggesting that any person in Hayes’ position would have acted similarly. Conversely, Raquel Smith, in a heartfelt statement, expressed relief and determination, noting the emotional toll of reliving the tragic events and her commitment to seeking justice for her late husband.

This legal saga not only underscores the complexities of self-defense laws but also highlights the ongoing debate about split-jury convictions in the American legal system. The case's conclusion may offer some closure to those involved but continues to resonate as a poignant example of the intersection between sports, law, and societal issues.