U.S. Supreme Court tosses split verdict conviction for man who killed former New Orlean’s Saints football star

Published 4:52 pm Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The U.S. Supreme Court has thrown out the manslaughter conviction for the man who shot former New Orleans Saints star Will Smith to death in 2016.

Monday’s order in favor of Cardell Hayes had been expected. In December 2017, a jury convicted Hayes by a vote of 10-2 on charges of manslaughter and attempted manslaughter in the death of Smith and the wounding of Smith’s wife, who was struck in the leg by gunfire. But the Supreme Court has since ruled that such convictions must be unanimous.

A state appeals court gets the case next but, ultimately, it will be up to the new district attorney in New Orleans, Jason Williams, to decide whether to put Hayes, 33, on trial again. Hayes is serving a 25-year sentence.

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The shootings followed arguments after a traffic crash. Hayes said he shot in self-defense. A state appeals court rejected that argument.

Surveillance video from the night of the shooting showed Smith’s Mercedes SUV possibly bumping Hayes’ Hummer, then driving off. Hayes followed them and rammed his vehicle into Smith’s. Both then got out and argued in the street.

Hayes insisted at trial that he fired after a drunk, angry Smith retrieved a gun from his car and fired first. But Hayes was the only witness to say Smith held a gun or fired it. A handgun was found loaded but unused in Smith’s car.

Williams’ office issued a release noting the Supreme Court action on the Hayes case and another, lesser known, split-verdict case in Louisiana. It said both cases “will receive thorough review and a decision in the coming weeks on the best way to proceed under the law to deliver justice.”

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 hit in 2005. He helped carry the team to a winning season in 2006 and a Super Bowl victory in 2010.

Hayes, 33, who owned a tow-truck business, had played semi-pro football and is the father of a young son.