Jury Selection, Opening Arguments Heard in New Orleans Saints’ Will Smith Death Trial — ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law in Question

The trial of Cardell Hayes, the alleged shooter responsible for the death of former Saints’ defensive end Will Smith, is underway in New Orleans.

The 29-year-old Hayes faces second-degree murder charges in connection with the April 9, 2016, death of Smith, who was regarded as both a top defensive player in the NFL as well as a well-respected and regarded member of the New Orleans community.


Lawyers for both Hayes and the City of New Orleans noted that Louisiana’s “Stand Your Ground” law could be a huge central issue during the trial over Will’s death.

In other words, the courts will be charged with determining exactly how on-the-defensive Hayes was on the night of Smith’s death.

Hayes — who is also charged with attempted murder following injuries sustained by Smith’s wife, Racquel, that same night — faces the possibility of life in prison for his role in the road rage incident that turned so ugly.

What is known is that Will’s SUV appeared to bump into Hayes’ Hummer on that Spring evening, and blocks later, the Hayes’ vehicle hit Smith’s car from behind. Both men were shown on video exchanging words when Hayes revealed that he had a handgun.

Smith’s exact reaction to that gun, however, remains fuzzy at best.

“Will Smith went to his glove box to get his [own] gun,” said Hayes’ attorney, Jay Daniels, per ABC News.

According to Daniels, Smith and his “friends,” who were also in the vehicle, were the aggressive ones in this road range incident.

Daniels also asserted his own belief that his client only shot when he his life was threatened.

Assistant New Orleans District Attorney Jason Napoli, however, painted a different story of Hayes’ interactions with Will in the moments leading up to Smith’s death.

“That isn’t even close to self-defense,” said Napoli. “That’s murder.”

The DA believes that not only is there is no evidence whatsoever that Smith was attempting to get his gun when he tried to safely return to his car, but that could not ever justify shooting Smith in his back and causing his death.

In that regard, ABC News noted that the prosecutors believe Hayes’ actions against Smith could classify him as a raging killer.

Hayes also shot Will six more times in his back, once in his side, leading to his death, in addition to firing at Racquel Smith’s legs.


Napoli claimed that Smith was never in a position where he could have hurt Hayes. In addition, the DA noted that he believes Hayes “provoked a confrontation” by outright choosing to collide with Will’s vehicle.

While it is believed that Will was intoxicated at the time of the road rage incident, Napoli also stated his belief that in no way could Will Smith’s death be justified.

“[Will Smith] died defenseless,” Napoli told the court.

Will Smith and Sean Payton
Former Saints’ defensive end Will Smith, during happier times, gets some words of encouragement from the team’s coach Sean Payton. [Image by Stacy Revere/Getty Images]

For his own part, Hayes’ lawyer claims the accident occurred as Hayes attempted to use his phone to call 911 and report Smith’s license plate for the earlier incident.

Perhaps more difficult than sorting out the truth in the case of Will’s death is finding a local 12-person jury who were not aware of the former New Orleans Saint’s high profile in the community.

Smith, after all, was a pivotal key in helping the Saints win the Super Bowl in 2009 after contributing many hours toward rebuilding the grief-stricken city in the aftermath of 2006’s Hurricane Katrina.

Will Smith
Will Smith, #91, was a pivotal figure in the New Orleans community’s efforts to rebuild following the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina in 2006. [Image by Al Bello/Getty Images]

Other areas of consideration for lawyers on Monday, per NBC News, were potential jurors opinions on self defense, what constitutes it, and at which point that line is drawn; their own personal opinions on Smith’s popularity and his loss in the community; and whether or not they could put aside opinions formed as a result of the extensive media coverage that followed Smith’s death in April.

Ironically, Hayes is himself a former semi-professional football player, although he will unlikely be remembered for such.

The new jury pool will be sequestered during the trial, which many people estimate could last between seven and 10 days.

[Featured Image by NFL/Getty Images]

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