Cardell Hayes again found guilty of killing former Saints star Will Smith

Trumpeter James Andrews, wearing number 12, leads a parade through the streets of New Orleans on April 15, 2016, in remembrance of slain former Saints defensive lineman Will Smith. Smith was shot and killed in New Orleans after a traffic incident. File photo by A.J. Sisco/UPI
Trumpeter James Andrews, wearing number 12, leads a parade through the streets of New Orleans on April 15, 2016, in remembrance of slain former Saints defensive lineman Will Smith. Smith was shot and killed in New Orleans after a traffic incident. File photo by A.J. Sisco/UPI
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Jan. 27 (UPI) -- A New Orleans jury on Saturday unanimously convicted the admitted shooter of former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith of manslaughter following a 2016 traffic accident.

The state jury returned its guilty verdict against Cardell Hayes but acquitted him of attempted manslaughter in the shooting of Smith's wife, Rachel, defense attorney Sarah Chervinsky told reporters.

The guilty verdict is the second against Hayes, whom a jury in 2017 found guilty of manslaughter by returning a 10-2 verdict. The Supreme Court in 2020 declared non-unanimous jury verdicts unconstitutional, which forced the second trial.

Prosecutors called several witnesses who testified that Hayes, 36, in 2016 drove his GMC Hummer into the back of Smith's Mercedes-Benz SUV at the intersection of Sophia Wright Place and Camp Street, argued with Smith and his wife, and then shot them in the back.

Smith died from eight bullet wounds in his back and side while Rachel Smith was struck in the leg by a bullet.

A makeshift memorial is shown in 2016 at the site of the deadly shooting that took the life of former New Orleans Saints defensive lineman Will Smith. File photo by A.J. Sisco/UPI
A makeshift memorial is shown in 2016 at the site of the deadly shooting that took the life of former New Orleans Saints defensive lineman Will Smith. File photo by A.J. Sisco/UPI

Hayes' defensive team argued he acted in self-defense after hearing what he thought was a gunshot. Hayes is scheduled for sentencing in the Orleans Parish Criminal Court and faces up to 40 years in prison.

"Each time we stepped into this courthouse, we were forced to relive the worst moments of our lives," Rachel Smith said in a statement to WWL-TV. "As hard as it was to sit and listen to autopsy reports and untruths about the night Will was killed and I was shot, we came each day brave and strong because we were fighting for Will.

"I can look my children in the eyes and tell them that I gave everything in pursuit of justice on behalf of Will," she said. "All we have ever wanted was for Mr. Hayes to take accountability for his actions, and we hope that through this verdict, we are one step closer to that becoming a reality."

Smith was 34 when he was killed and played defensive end for the Saints from 2004 to 2013. Smith helped the Saints win the Super Bowl by a 31-17 score over the Indianapolis Colts on Feb. 7, 2010.

The Saints drafted Smith in the first round of the 2004 draft, and he completed his career in 2013 with 618 tackles, 67.5 sacks, two interceptions and seven fumble recoveries over 139 games.

The Saints posthumously inducted Smith into its Hall of Fame in 2016 and Saints Ring of Honor in 2019.

Smith was the father of three children with his wife.