Retrial begins for man who fatally shot ex-Saints star after traffic collision

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jury selection was underway Monday in the manslaughter retrial for the man who fatally shot Orleans Saints star Will Smith almost eight years ago.

Cardell Hayes, 36, has long insisted he shot Smith in self-defense during an April 2016 confrontation after a car crash. Smith died and his wife, Racquel Smith, was wounded by gunfire.

Racquel Smith was in court Monday sitting in a row behind New Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams, who is leading the prosecution. Ten jurors had been selected as of late Monday afternoon, and it appeared opening arguments could happen as early as Tuesday.

Hayes was convicted of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter several months after the shooting. But the jury’s vote was 10-2 and the U.S. Supreme Court later said such convictions must be unanimous. He was released on bond after the conviction was reversed, having served more than four years of a 25-year sentence.

At his December 2016 trial, Hayes said he fired at Smith, hitting him once in the side and seven times in the back, only because he believed a drunken and belligerent Smith had retrieved a gun from his SUV. He insisted on the stand that he heard a “pop” before he started shooting and that he did not shoot at Smith’s wife, who was hit in the legs.

Evidence showed Smith was intoxicated at the time of the confrontation. But there was no witness or forensic evidence to back up Hayes’ claim that Smith had wielded or fired a weapon.

Hayes’ retrial has been delayed multiple times for a variety of reasons, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smith, a 34-year-old father of three, was a defensive leader on the Saints team that lifted spirits in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005. He helped carry the team to a winning season in 2006 and a Super Bowl victory in 2010.

Hayes, who owned a tow truck business, once played semi-pro football and is the father of a young son.

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