Retrial date set for man who claims self-defense in shooting death of former NFL star Will Smith

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Feb. 5 retrial date was set Wednesday for the man whose 2016 manslaughter conviction in the shooting death of former NFL star Will Smith was overturned because the jury's verdict was not unanimous.

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.

District Attorney Jason Williams said a new trial date was necessary after Hayes reversed a decision to plead guilty.

“It's deeply frustrating that we had a date blocked in and they said that they wanted to plead guilty as charged — no reduction from the charge — accept responsibility for shooting Racquel and for shooting Will,” Williams told reporters outside the courthouse.

Asked via email about whether Hayes had planned to plead guilty, defense attorney John Fuller said: “The DA was clearly basing his statement on the unreliable sources that led to this unnecessary maelstrom of mendacity.”

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 and no forensic evidence to back up Hayes’ claim that Smith had wielded or fired a weapon.

Hayes was convicted of manslaughter for Smith's death and attempted manslaughter in the wounding of Smith's wife, Racquel. He had served about four years of a 25-year sentence when his conviction was overturned after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed nonunanimous verdicts. He has been out on bond since early 2021. His 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.


An earlier version of this report had an incorrect spelling of Racquel Smith's first name.