In an unusual move, the lead attorney for the man accused of gunning down former Saints player Will Smith said Thursday he has asked Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro to allow his client, Cardell Hayes, to testify before a grand jury in the case.
Defense attorney John Fuller said a grand jury was meeting about the case “as we speak” and that he sent messages to Cannizzaro asking that Hayes, 28, be allowed to testify.
Hayes has been locked up at the Orleans Justice Center in lieu of $1 million bail since New Orleans police accused him of killing Smith in the Lower Garden District on the night of April 9, after an altercation sparked by a three-vehicle collision. Police say Hayes also shot Smith’s wife, Racquel Smith, once in each leg.
Fuller called it “suspicious” that Cannizzaro’s office was bringing the case before a grand jury so soon after Hayes was booked.
A spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office declined to respond to questions about Fuller’s statements or a grand jury inquiry into the case.
“Mr. Hayes is presently under arrest for one count of second-degree murder,” spokesman Christopher Bowman said. “As such, it is an open matter and, pursuant to office policy, we don’t comment on open matters.”
Whether a grand jury was, in fact, meeting on the case is uncertain, as grand jury proceedings are done in secret.
A grand jury indictment would likely obviate the need for a preliminary hearing scheduled for next Thursday. In such a hearing, both sides would be allowed to put up witnesses for a judge to determine if there is probable cause to hold Hayes on a second-degree murder count. In a grand jury setting, only the prosecution calls witnesses.
Fuller has subpoenaed former Saints running back Pierre Thomas and a former New Orleans police officer, Billy Ceravolo, for that hearing.
Both men had dinner with Smith at a Magazine Street sushi restaurant on the night of his killing, and both appeared at the scene of the gunfire that claimed the former Saints star’s life.
“I also find it suspicious that the District Attorney’s Office didn’t reach out to me to express an interest” in calling Hayes, “so that the grand jury gets a full picture, rather than a one-sided, prosecutor-friendly picture,” Fuller said.
Criminal defendants rarely testify before grand juries, where prosecutors can examine them in a setting where their attorneys may be present but are barred from arguing or addressing the grand jury.
Fuller has never admitted that his client shot Smith, but he has never contested the claim either. Instead, Hayes’ attorneys seem to be building a case for self-defense by suggesting that Smith or his acquaintances threatened Hayes.
Hayes remained on the scene of the shooting, and according to police, identified himself to officers as the shooter.
Smith family attorney Peter Thomson has scoffed at the suggestion that Hayes was acting in self-defense. Pointing to the fact that Smith was shot eight times, seven in the back, he called Hayes a “cold-blooded murderer.”